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Getting schooled: Blackbirds depending on senior’s experience, leadership

Blackbirds best: Long Island University senior guard Joel Hernandez is ready to step into the spotlight this season, determined to lead the squad on both sides of the ball.
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It’s time for a little bit of senior leadership.

The Long Island University men’s basketball team didn’t have a single senior player on its roster last season, and the lack of experience and on-court direction made it a difficult year for the Blackbirds. This year, however, the team has a handful of fourth-year players and none of them are more ready for their moment in the leadership-spotlight than Joel Hernandez.

The Blackbirds guard is expected to do a bit of everything for the squad — whether it’s directing the offense, setting up on the wing, or giving advice away from the game. It’s a big-time role for Hernandez — one he’s anxious to take on.

“Last year, there were no seniors, so we didn’t really have anybody to look up to and tell us on the court the right things to do,” Hernandez said. “So I just want to show the guys how to play and when things are going wrong — bring the team together.”

Hernandez has the talent — and the stats — to back up his words. He played in 31 games last season, averaged 12.2 points, and shot nearly 45 percent from the floor — the second-best on the team. Hernandez will have to do even more this year.

The Blackbirds lost junior guard Martin Hermannsson during the offseason when he opted to turn pro overseas instead of returning to Brooklyn, and the decision left a hole in the team’s backcourt. That’s where Hernandez — and his ball-handling skills — come in.

The 6-foot-3 guard is expected to play a good chunk of minutes at the point guard position this season, particularly when the Blackbirds begin the squad’s out-of-conference schedule on Nov. 11 against John Jay. It’s a new-look for the team — and Hernandez — but if he’s going to be a leader, it’s something he’ll have to do.

“He’s got a tight enough handle, he can make good decisions when the ball’s in his hands, and I think, as a senior, he’s mature enough to do things that way,” said Long Island University coach Jack Perri. “And you just don’t see that in our league very much.”

Having Hernandez at the point changes the way the Blackbirds run the game. In years past, Long Island University has thrived on a fast-paced approach, sprinting up and down the court in transition and pushing the ball towards the basket. The team still wants to do that as much as possible, but with Hernandez up top, things will slow down just a bit.

“We’re not going to be flying up the court with him at the point guard, but we’ll be much more of a halfcourt team,” Perri said. “[Julian Batts and Jashaun Agosto] will also get minutes at point, and I think they understand that our strength is in the frontcourt.”

Hernandez is dealing with more responsibility than ever before in his career — both on and off the court — and there have been times when he’s been frustrated with the progression of the team. There are still a good chunk of young players, and there have been plenty of preseason growing pains to contend with.

Still, after a senior-less season and middle-of-the-conference finish last year, Hernandez knows this team can handle just about anything. And he’s ready to lead the Blackbirds to a title.

“I feel like every year we’ve gotten better, but we can even get better than what we were,” Hernandez said. “We feel like we were very talented last year, and we just came up short, so we know what to expect. We have to push harder than we did last year.”

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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