Replacing the man in the middle

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The Appalachian Online

Ben Cogsdale

The Appalachian State men’s basketball team will begin the 2015-16 season looking to fill the void left by forward Tommy Spagnolo.

Spagnolo led the Mountaineers in rebounding during the 2014-15 season, pulling in seven boards per game while also finishing second on the team in scoring, averaging 9.7 points per game.

Since his departure from Boone, the 6-foot-7, 225 pound forward has moved on to play professional basketball in Germany for the ScanPlus Baskets in Elchingen, where he also currently ranks first in rebounds and second in scoring.

Mountaineer head coach Jim Fox acknowledged that while it would be plausible to make up Spagnolo’s production on the court, his leadership intangibles would be missed.

“The biggest thing you have to replace is the intangibles Tommy brought to the table,” Fox said. “Tommy was tough as nails, a great leader in the locker room, a guy that any loose ball you knew he was going to come up with it and if you needed a big basket Tommy was going to get it.”

The challenging task of replacing the big man will fall into the hands of the remaining Mountaineer front court. Seniors Michael Obacha and Jacob Lawson will garner quality minutes alongside sophomore Griffin Kinney.

The Mountaineers will count on Obacha to provide the type of experience and defensive presence lost with Spagnolo’s departure. The 6-foot-8, 218 pound forward from Edo State, Nigeria, averaged three points and 3.5 rebounds during the 2014-2015 season.

Lawson will also be counted on to provide experience and depth off the bench. The 6-foot-8, 237 pound forward is a physical force on the defensive side, leading the Mountaineers in blocked shots, swatting 28 last season. Lawson will look to bring the physicality of Spagnolo this season, and has done so already this year, amassing five blocks in 18 minutes during the team’s season opener against Jacksonville University.

“He was a physical guy,” Lawson said. “He sought rebounds more than any other big man here.”

Kinney will be the wildcard of the front court carousel this season. More of a skilled scorer from the forward position, Kinney has the potential to help the Mountaineers in the scoring department. Also standing 6-foot-8, Kinney possesses the size and ability to shoot over defenders as well as drive to the basket.

Replacing the mental and physical contributions of Spagnolo will be a team effort for the Mountaineers this season. All three of the expected contributors in the frontcourt will be counted on to provide quality minutes while playing within Fox’s system, evidenced by their minute distribution of 19 for Obacha, 18 for Lawson and 16 for Kinney against the Dolphins Saturday.

“Staying within our offense is the only way for our team to get a win,” Kinney said. “We’re not going to go out and go one-on-one with guys. It’s team offense, ball movement and find the open shot.”

Story by: Ben Cogsdale, Sports Reporter