Three years ago, when the College of Staten Island men’s basketball program closed the door on a 6-20 campaign, many wondered if the program would rise off of the mat while Head Coach Tony Petosa and his staff tried to keep their vision set on today, a handful of years into the future where the Dolphins would begin to bear the fruits of the seeds sown that fateful year.  Fast forward to the present and the Dolphins are looking to build on a CUNYAC Regular Season Championship from a year ago, a 17-11 mark, and a trip to the ECAC Metro NY/NJ Postseason.

“I thought we had a very good year last year,” said Petosa.  “We played extremely hard.  We hit a little bit of a wall at the end but we were able to fight and played well.  It certainly gives us optimism heading in to this season.”

Indeed, the 2010-11 installment of the Dolphins where a developing work in progress, a team that is still travelling to where it needs to go according to its coach.  The team graduated only one senior a year ago and only a single starter is lost from a year ago.  The Dolphins are still changing, with seven new faces donning a CSI jersey, with many expected to lend larger and more expanded roles, some playing what will be their first collegiate basketball.

Make no mistake, however, that the Dolphins will only be as good as their returning unit, one laden with senior talent that could be at the envy of most NCAA Division III programs.  The anchor is Jordan Young, a 1,249-point scorer who stands to be only the second CSI player in history to record 1,000+ points, 500+ rebounds, and 300+ assists in a career at CSI.  The dynamic forward sees backcourt help in Dale Taranto, who blossomed his junior year to average 11.9 points with 5.9 rebounds and T.J. Tibbs, one of the nation’s leaders in assists (5.0 pg.), three-point percentage (42.4%), and points per game (15.5) a year ago.

“Obviously we have a lot of respect for them,” tells Petosa.  “They will be the reasons why we are successful or not.  They have a lot pressure put on them, but if things go well, it means those guys are working extraordinarily hard to get things done.”

Returning starter Matt Van Manen, at 6’5″, was the man in the middle last year who handled the CUNYAC’s big men admirably in his freshman campaign, while 6th-man Bloochy Magloire torched opponents for 65 three-pointers a season ago to the tune of 14.0 points per game.  The supporting cast continues with the likes of Louis Valdes (So., 3.7 ppg., 1.2 rpg.). Frank Husslein (So., 1.4 ppg., 1.4 rpg.,), Herschel Jenkins (Jr., 0.4 ppg., 0.2 rpg.), and senior Chris Maccarone.

The returning class is enough to excite, with CSI already having boasted a 10-3 conference mark a year ago en route to a CUNYAC Championship Final appearance, but the newcomers are what many hope, including Petosa, to tip the scales in 2011-12.

Junior transfer Dylan Bulger (Drew University) is a 6-foot-11 dominating presence inside that could help CSI improve on its -3.0 rebounding differential a year ago.  The Staten Island Tech product was sidelined his entire freshman campaign at Drew before becoming a solid force last year.  His integration could be crucial in the middle, helping players like Van Manen, Young, and Valdes branch out to the perimeter defensively.  Patrick Granata spent his freshman season with the Dolphins on the sidelines, absorbing practices from the stands as he hopes to fill in as a backup option to Tibbs.  The same is true for JC Albano, a first-year senior transfer from Baruch College.

First year junior Lameik Black (Port Richmond HS) and second year newcomer Kevin King (Cornwall Central HS) could contend for minutes as early as December, while true freshmen Javon Cox (Ralph McKee HS) and Ahmed Gamea (Ridgefield Park HS) have earned quality looks in practice that has Petosa understandably excited.

“It’s really hard to tell because everything is still relatively new to our younger players, and between practices, little injuries and getting guys on the court, we will have to be patient,” Petosa said.   “I’m certainly hoping we can go a little deeper this year, but the season will dictate what we do.”

The dynamic integration of quality new talent with an already established nucleus could see Petosa look to his bench more this season, as CSI only had eight players last season that averaged more than five minutes per contest.  Petosa hopes to keep his team fresher this year, allowing them to be more aggressive defensively while hurting opponents offensively with fresh legs, the ability to penetrate inside while burying the long-ball.

“There is no question our success witll hinge on the returners, but our new talent will give a lift.  We are also looking towards our future, cornerstone guys that we know will carry us the same way our upperclassmen will this year.”

While it’s clear the Dolphins have the capability to contend for a title, they will have to erase the sting of a tough final stretch last year, one that saw the Dolphins drop seven of their final 11 games after a 14-4 start, which included a 9-0 start in CUNY play.  Petosa, the reigning CUNYAC Coach of the Year, Staten Island Advance’s Sportman of the Year and a Joe Ryan Memorial Award winner in 2010-11, is anxious to get the season started, but is not surprisingly guarded about just how good the Dolphins can be.

“I think we will be competitive,” said Petosa.  “We can beat anyone but it will depend on how we show up to play.  Our success will always be based on effort and intellect on the court.  In this conference you can’t win, you won’t win, if you don’t play hard and you don’t play smart.  We need to do those things better than our opponents this year if we want to contend for a title.”

CSI’s quest for a 12th CUNYAC Championship will begin with a non-conference tip-off tournament at Lycoming College, where CSI will play the hosts Friday evening at 6pm.  Late December will see CSI usher in its 10th annual Tournament of Heroes, and when January rolls around the team will have six home contests before ending the season on a four-game road swing which will include trips to division-rivals York College, Brooklyn College, and Medgar Evers College.