Pat Skerry

Pat Skerry (Baltimore Sun photo by Jed Kirschbaum / June 13, 2012)

For a guy who just lived through a 1-31 season in his first year as a Division I head coach, Pat Skerry seems oddly optimistic.

But for the second-year Towson men's basketball coach, staying positive is a surprisingly easy thing to do. Just steps away from his second-floor Towson Center office, construction continues on the state-of-the-art Tiger Arena, which is scheduled to open Aug. 1, 2013. Skerry says he couldn't be happier about the support his program receives from the athletic department and the university's administration. And the former Pittsburgh, Providence and Rhode Island assistant is bringing in a group of players that he thinks can potentially turn around Towson's on-the-court fortunes in a hurry.

For the 2012-13 season, Towson returns leading scorer Marcus Damas, a junior small forward, sophomore point guard Kris Walden, and sophomore center Jamel Flash. The Tigers also add three Big East transfers in center Bilal Dixon (Providence), shooting guard Mike Burwell (South Florida) and power forward Jerrelle Benimon (Georgetown).

Skerry's highly touted 2012 recruiting class, which named one of the best under-the-radar groups in the country, features: Roanoke, Va., point guard Jerome Hairston ('s No. 121 prospect nationally); Bridgeport, Conn., forward Timajh Parker-Rivera; Wilmington, Del., center/forward Barrington Alston; Reading, Pa., wing Marquis Marshall (son of former NBA player Donyell Marshall); and wing Rafriel Guthrie, a D.C. native who played last year at College of Southern Idaho. Petersburg, Va., guard Frank Mason, who signed with the Tigers in November, is not expected to be at Towson this year. The Tigers are also expected to welcome one of their top players during the 2010-11 season back into the fold.

Skerry spoke with The Sun this week about the 2012-13 Tigers.

Let's break down the roster by position, starting at point guard.

We’ll have Hairston, who’s obviously the most talented guy we signed. He’s got a chance to be really good. He’s got next-level size and great vision. Him, and obviously Kris Walden, can play both guard spots for us. [Walden’s] had a really good spring. His body’s changed. So I’ve been excited about those two guys.

How are things shaping up at shooting guard?

We’ll have Burwell at the guard spot. We’re expecting big things from him. Big East kid, he’s a legit 6-5, athletic, he can shoot. He’s still got to take hits better, but he’s talented.

More than likely, if summer goes as expected, [RaShawn] Polk is going to come back as a grad student. [Editor's note: Polk was suspended last year after facing assault and burglary charges]. He had a great year academically and he’d like to come back. So we’re going to go through the summer. He had a pretty good career until he had a blip on the radar, and obviously with all that stuff, he’s been fine and cleared of all that.

Are you impressed that he kept working despite his suspension?

I am impressed – one, the way he’s handled his academics. He’s well above a 3.0. The other piece is that he wants to get a master’s, get involved with counseling with kids. He wants to be here at Towson. Now he’s had a long time off, not having practices and all that stuff. But we’ll try to get him back in to Summer 2 and evaluate that. We’re working on him getting accepted into grad school now that he’s graduated. So there’s a strong possibility he’ll be back with us. So that makes us markedly deeper in the backcourt than we were a year ago.

How do you envision things shaking out at the 3?

At the 3 we’ve got Marcus Damas back, who led us in scoring and got stronger. He had a good year. I think he surprised us. And then we’re excited about the other kid that can play a lot of different positions, Guthrie. He’s from a good program out of Southern Idaho. He led D.C. in scoring a couple years ago. He’s not that big – he’s only 6-3, 6-2. A lot of guys say they play hard; this guy really, really plays hard. He was second in his region in rebounding, which tells you about a guy’s toughness level. So I’m really excited about him. I also think he’s going to be our best defender, something we didn’t have last year, like a lockdown guy. And I think him and Marcus, Marcus can play some 2. I think Guthrie can play 2 through 4 for us. All of a sudden we’ve got a little bit more flexibility. We’ve got the potential to be a lot deeper. And Marquis Marshall we signed late. He might have more upside than all of them. He’s got to get a lot stronger, his body needs to fill out. But he’s 6-5, could keep growing; his dad’s about 6-9. And Marquis can really shoot it. Good feel for the game. He’s got to get stronger. He’s really thin. But he can really shoot it. When you shoot the ball as poorly as we did a year ago, obviously a couple guys that can make shots can bring value. He’ll be in second session summer school, so that’ll be an important five weeks for him.

How about at power forward?

And then we’ve got Benimon, who will step right in to the 4. He’s talented. We knew he was physical, a good rebounder. What we didn’t know is that he can really pass, he can shoot, he can post. He’s like the guys that are leaving this league that obviously we didn’t have that you need. He’s like a [Ryan] Pearson [of George Mason], [Bradford] Burgess [of VCU], Samme Givens [of Drexel] type of a guy. A true 4 man. He’s had a great offseason. He’s 6-8, 238. I think he’s got to become a better leader for us, but he’s got a chance to be as talented as most guys that we’ll play against in CAA play.

Benimon can move around. He can move up a spot or down a spot. We signed a kid Timahj Parker; he’s a combo forward out of St. Joe’s High School in Trumbull, Conn., that won back-to-back state championships. He was an Atlantic 10-level recruit. He’s 6-7, already 218. Like a lot of freshmen, you want to have them every day for skill work. But he’s got a motor. He’s tough. I just think he’s used to winning. I’m excited about him.

Finally, talk about what you've got at the 5.

We’ve got Bilal Dixon from Providence, who will play right away. He’s a grad student. He’s 6-9, about 260, 265. He’s a big kid.

So you obviously overlapped with him at Providence, right?