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Vermont’s John Becker Finding Consistent Success through the Portal



Despite winning the America East Championship for the third consecutive season, for Vermont head coach John Becker, it doesn’t feel like a three-peat. 

“It doesn’t really feel like a three-peat because all three of [our] teams have been completely different,” said Becker. “The last three years for us, the teams and the players have been different for the most part. A few guys have stretched across all three teams, just a couple and so I think the players are drawing a lot from me and the coaches that have been here and through these Championships the past three years.”

As Becker describes it, this Vermont program looked completely different heading into the 2023 offseason. 

On a roster loaded with senior and graduate talent, the Catamounts had to deal with the departures of Dylan Penn, Finn Sullivan, Robin Duncan, and Kameron Gibson.

Though, the transfer portal is nothing new for Becker and so his staff recruited heavily throughout the offseason with the goal of reconstructing this roster to compete in a growing America East Conference.

“The interesting thing with us the last two years is we have eight new players on our team this year and we had seven new players on last years,” said Becker. “It’s been unique in the sense that there’s more new players than old. So, the [transfer additions] are a big part of this year’s team as far as the rotation goes.”

Ultimately, it paid off as Vermont returns for its third straight NCAA Tournament appearance with a First Round bout against Duke at the Barclays Center tomorrow night.

Headlining this Catamounts group in a potential upset bid will be leading-scorer and Fairfield Transfer TJ Long who’s averaging career-highs of 12.2 PPG, 4.0 RPG, and 1.4 APG since arriving in Burlington

According to Becker, Long is the most clutch player he’s coached during his time at Vermont.

“He’s been incredible for us, I haven’t coached a more clutch player than TJ long and he’s had at least five game winners this year,” said Becker. “He’s something else, just his confidence, his ability to score the ball, he’s been a huge part of this year’s team and is why this team is 10-4 in games trailing at the half.”

Alongside Long, Tarleton State transfer Shamir Bogues has played a critical role in Vermont’s return to the big dance.

Averaging career-best of 11.0 PPG, 5.3 RPG and 2.5 APG while shooting 51% from the field, Bogues was selected to the All-Conference First-Team, as Conference Newcomer of the Year, and later, as Most Outstanding Player of the AEC Tournament.

“Since I came on my visit [to Vermont] we all felt like family and were super close together,” said Bogues. “I think that’s why we’ve been winning so many games. We are just so well put together, so well coached and everybody just bought in.”

Leading Vermont to the AEC Championship title, Bogues managed 16 points and five assists against Albany, 11 points and four steals to down New Hampshire and 15 points to secure a Finals win over UMass-Lowell.

However, as he mentioned earlier, none of this consistency would have been possible were it not for the foundations Becker set through the transfer portal two offseasons ago.

Acquisitions like former Rhode Island recruit Ileri Ayo-Faleye and Delaware/UConn transfer Matt Veretto who hadn’t played basketball since 2019/19 have each shown improvements this season.

With Long and Bogues joining in, the pieces all came together for a 28-6 record which ties the second most wins of the Becker-era in Vermont.

“Trying to find each other and find our roles, everyone kind of fit together,” said Long. “Since we got here in the summer everybody has been figuring each other out on and off the court and we’re a really tight-knit group so it’s been a smooth transition for everyone.”

Behind fifth-year senior and team captain Aaron Deloney, who’ll be making his third NCAA Tournament appearance with Vermont, the Catamounts will have an opportunity to battle against one of the nation’s premier programs in Duke.

Having been here before, Deloney is setting the tone and knows what it will take for Vermont to compete with some of the best in the country.

“I’ve been here a few times before and kind of know what to expect, Deloney said. “My calmness and just knowing that I’ve been here before helps the young guys settle in and when they see me, they can get a sense of relaxation knowing that if our leader is calm, we can be calm too.”

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