MBB Preview: Cougars Embark on 2019-20 Season in Coach Simms' First Year

Photo: Nico Lee
Photo: Nico Lee

WORCESTER, Mass. – The Clark University men's basketball team tips-off the Division III college season on Friday, November 8 as the team welcomes local opponent Worcester State University to the Kneller Athletic Center for the fifth annual Midnight Mayhem contest.

The 2019-20 installment of Midnight Mayhem not only signifies the start of a new season, but a changing of the guard as head coach Tyler Simms will be making his debut as the Head Coach of the Clark Men's Basketball program, taking over for Paul Phillips who spent 21 seasons at the helm.

Simms, who served as an assistant coach at Division I Brown University the last four seasons, takes over the Cougars program with a rich basketball tradition, injecting his own philosophy of unwavering hard work, effort and energy into the program. 

"We have a great group of student-athletes who have been working very hard," Simms said. "They have really bought into what we're teaching them and improving every day. We will be a program that prides itself on playing hard and playing connected. We are going to be a passionate group that plays fast and aggressive on both ends of the floor."

Returning Student-Athletes:

Coach Simms inherits a unit that returns 10 student-athletes from last year that looks to build upon a 5-20 regular season in 2018-19. Junior Biko Gayman (Fort Pierce, Fla.) and graduate student Brendan Kittredge (Clinton, Mass.) provide the bulk of the experience in the backcourt with the guards starting in 49 and 30 games respectively throughout their careers. Gayman contributed a team-high 4.9 APG, while Kittredge was second on the team with 5.5 RPG.

The Cougars will also lean heavily on the team's leading scorer from a season ago as forward Tyler Davern (Webster, Mass.) centerpieces the frontcourt. The six-foot-five junior is coming off a career year that saw him average 15.6 ppg and 6.1 RPG while starting in 24 games and seeing action in all 25 contests.

Additionally, the Cougars return a pair of sophomore guards in Joel Arteaga (Wyncote, Pa.) and Antonio Lapeyrolerie (Plano, Texas), who averaged 8.2 ppg and 6.6 ppg respectively, with the duo bolstering the high-energy offensive unit.

Sean Christy (Cumberland, R.I.), Charles Stevens (Bronx, N.Y.) and Matthew Waggett (Saugus, Mass.) provide additional returning depth with the trio seeing time in more than 20 games apiece last season. Junior guard Anthony Grzembski (Webster, Mass.) and sophomore Tim Holt (North Providence, R.I.) round out the returning student-athletes.

Coach Simms on the Returners: "The energy and buy-in from the returning guys has been tremendous. They have been practicing really hard and working on translating what we are asking them to do. Above all else – they are great young men, who represent Clark University and Clark Basketball on and off the court at a high standard."

New Faces:

The Cougars' first-year class features five student-athletes while sophomore Zackary Mittelstadt (Wilton, Maine) will be making his collegiate debut this season after sitting out for the entirety of the 2018-19 campaign.

The theme of this year's incoming class is size as three of the five newcomers stand six-foot-five or higher with forwards Leo Okonya (Manchester, Conn.), Elias Garcia (Sugar Land, Texas) and Joshua Schibi (Burlington, Conn.) providing depth inside the paint. 

Along the perimeter, the Cougars welcome Charlie Trey-Masters (Philadelphia, Pa.), Barry Evans (Manhattan, N.Y.) and Mittelstadt to bolster a guard corps which features 11 in total. 

Coach Simms on the Incoming Class: "The first-year class has brought in a lot of energy and passion to the program, similar to the upperclassmen. They add a good mix of size and athleticism, but also an ability to score at different positions. But more so than anything, they're doing a great job with their work ethic and coachability to improve in the preseason so far."

The Schedule:

The Cougars open up a 25 game regular season schedule with the first non-conference test coming November 8 against local rival Worcester State in the fifth annual Midnight Mayhem. The matchup with the Lancers is the first of the year against MASCAC opponents as Clark University will also be taking on Fitchburg State, Framingham State and Salem State.

Clark University adds a trio of new opponents to the regular season slate this year, starting at the Herb Kenny Tip-Off Tournament in Middletown, Conn. when the Cougars clash with Maine-Presque Isle in opening round action. The Cougars then take on either Sage College or Wesleyan – both new opponents in 2019-20 – in the second round of the tournament.

Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC) contender Endicott College rounds out the new opponents this season for the Cougars as the squad's battle for the first time in two years while at the Salem State Holiday Tournament on December 30.

Additionally for non-conference opponents, the Cougars go up against Worcester-area foes Becker College and Anna Maria while retaining Regis and Connecticut College on the 2019-20 schedule.

Clark University, which was recently voted seventh in the NEWMAC preseason polls, tips-off on conference play on January 8 when it hosts Wheaton College for a 7:00 pm bout. That clash with the Lyons triggers a gauntlet of 14 straight games coming against opponents from the stout NEWMAC to round out the regular season.

Coach Simms on the Schedule: "We're fortunate to be part of one of the best basketball conferences in the country in the NEWMAC. The history of our conference with past and recent successes is something that's extremely competitive nationally. That being said every game is going to be a difficult battle just as our non-conference slate will be as well. We're going to focus on the day in front of us and work to get better as a team."

Milestones on the Horizon:

The Cougars will be on milestone watch throughout the 2019-20 campaign as a pair of juniors are on the cusp of reaching the 1,000 point plateau for their careers.

Gayman, who poured in 388 and 311 points during his first two collegiate seasons, currently sits 301 points away from 1,000 for his career. Davern is not far behind as the stretch forward needs just 344 points himself to join the 1,000 point club. Additionally, Davern sits 37 rebounds away from 300 in his career.