Photography by Jacquie DellaNeve
The word “team”, as it rolls off the tongue, seems to have taken a watered-down meaning in terms of the impact that it has on an athlete’s life. In college, all you have is your team (along with coaches/training staff/etc.) But between constantly being together and actually having people be able to relate to how strenuous the life of a Division I athlete is, an unbreakable bond(s) is bound to form. Niagara University’s men’s basketball team exemplifies the meaning of the word beyond its original intended purpose – and it’s noticeable as soon as you see them together.
Matt Scott, Kahlil Dukes, and Marvin (or as he likes to be called, ‘Marv’) Prochet have been the anchors for Niagara throughout the season. Marv, the upbeat sophomore bringing a euphoric attitude to the floor, Dukes’ poker-faced demeanor and Scott, bringing the energy together as the leader of the team; it’s almost as if someone was writing a situational comedy.
However, there is a darker picture to this sitcom. The Purple Eagles are again toward the bottom of the conference with a record of 9-22 after this weekend. However there are some upsides, says the captains.
“We grew together,” says Scott in regards to the team throughout the course of the year. “This whole season has been about growth, we’re just trying to play our best basketball in March.”
And Scott would know best. He’s been a leader on the team for the past three years watching players come and go more than anyone else other than Head Coach Chris Casey. In terms of comparison, Scott prefers to look ahead with the team he has now.
“I’ve pretty much had a different team every year I’ve been here,” says Scott. “I feel like this is the best team that I’ve played on since.” Currently, Scott leads Niagara with a career-high 17.3 points per game as well as in rebounds with 7.0 per game.
“Every damn practice, he comes in and plays hard.”
Scott also talked about redshirt-sophomore Kevin Larkin and the impact that he’s been able to have on the team.
“Well he’s been playing pretty good but that’s every damn practice, he comes in and plays hard and scores the ball,” says Scott. “I’m pretty sure games like that will be more consistent in the future.
Previously, Larkin was an absolute stud at Cheyney University, an NCAA Division II program situated in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC). There, Larkin averaged 17.8 points per game; the most among freshman in Division II. He was named Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Freshman of the Year (and the ECAC consists of 33 NCAA Division II members from 10 conferences) while also earning East PSAC Rookie of the year as well as All-PSAC Second Team Honors.
Scott went on to talk about his budding relationship with starting guard and USC-transfer Kahlil Dukes.
“I’m an unselfish guy, if (Dukes) gets 30 I’m happy. If I get 30 he’s happy. If anyone on the team gets 30 we’re happy.”
Dukes has made an immediate impact in his first season playing for Niagara. So far, he leads the team with over four assists per game and is second on the team with 15.5 points per game. Dukes is also second on the team to Kevin Larkin in with a free throw percentage of .922. He’s only missed eight all season.
“I get to focus on basketball, my team, on winning, on getting better…”
Dukes says that calling Niagara University home was helpful in terms of being able to get back to the basketball court and work on his game.
“It’s different because I’m not worried about what’s going on in L.A. or whatever,” says Dukes. “Here I just stay in the gym and there’s not as many distractions.”
And he has a point. Later in the interview Dukes referenced the differences in culture between southern-California and Niagara Falls and what impact it’s had on how he approaches every game.
“I get to focus on basketball, I get to focus on my team, on winning, on getting better,” says Dukes. And it seems that being a student-athlete has become Dukes’ No. 1 priority since coming here; improving his craft as a student as well as becoming a threat on the basketball court. “Since there’s not as much do to here, I can focus on what’s important.”
Dukes also talked about budding-star Prochet, who has embraced his role as a leader this season.
“(Marv) is a great player, a great energy guy,” says Dukes. “When’s he’s hot we’re tough to beat. If he’s consistent we have a chance to win the MAAC Tournament.”
So far this season Marv has done great. He’s currently third on the team in scoring (9.5) and third on the team with rebounds (5.6) trailing only Scott and his roommate Dominic Robb. In terms of the energy he brings, Prochet likes to reference his role as a leader and his style of play being something that balances out the team’s chemistry.
“I try to play every game like it’s my last. I try to bring the energy everyday,” says Prochet. “If the team sees me bringing that then they’ll do that.”
In terms of the MAAC Tournament at the end of the year, the team is optimistic going into Albany this weekend to compete with the rest of the tournament. Despite their current record, the team is aware of what they can do and aren’t shy when it comes to their ability to win, especially when asked what they are capable of.
“What can we do?!” exclaimed Scott when asked. “Oh man, we compete with the best.” He’s not wrong either.
Despite their regular-season record, the Purple Eagles were able to take down St. Peter’s University, Iona University and Sienna University; the second, third, and fourth best teams in the conference, respectively.
“What can we do?! We compete with the best.”
“Team basketball, we gotta run and get easy baskets,” Scott continued to say. “When we get stops and run, no team can beat us.”
Prochet also chimed in speaking on the team’s versatility when it comes to being able to win in any type of basketball game.
“We can beat any type of team, we just have to keep high energy and stay together.”
The Purple Eagles travel to Albany to play inside the Times Union Center this upcoming weekend March 2-6 to face Quinnipiac University in the first round of the MAAC Tournament. Niagara dropped both contests to Quinnipiac earlier this season losing 81-78 then again 89-81 giving them an unusual advantage seeing as though it is extremely difficult to beat a team three times in one season.
Niagara’s women’s basketball team also travel to Albany to take on local rival Canisius College at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, March 2 in what will be the first round of their tournament.