So far, so good for the Erie BayHawks.
With a new head coach, the Erie BayHawks are 17-9 heading into Friday’s game at Maine against the Red Claws (11-16).
Last season, Erie only won 21 games.
This season’s record is a bit skewed because the BayHawks are playing in the East Conference, which has only two teams with winning records, but they win at conference leader Iowa (19-7) on Christmas Day, 114-110 after losing to the Energy on a last-second shot on the road.
Jay Larranaga had never been a head coach in the states and his only head coaching experience was with the Irish National Team, but so far, he’s shown why Erie hired him to replace John Treloar, who left to become the Director of Player Personnel for the Phoenix Suns.
Larranaga, who will turn 36 Monday, has made some interesting trades in shipping Cedric Jackson to Idaho for a 2011 first-round pick and trading rookie power forward Jeff Adrien to Rio Grande Valley, for guard Garrett Temple.
Jackson had received NBA call-ups from three different teams last season as a rookie while Adrien played for the Golden State Warriors this season before they waived him. Erie got Adrien out of the D-League player pool.
However, the BayHawks helped themselves before any of that by having a sound draft.
Getting Ivan Johnson with the 15th pick in the first round means 14 teams passed up on who has been one of the best players in the D-League this season.
Johnson’s past that includes playing for four colleges in four years, getting kicked out of an Korean basketball league for having issues with referees, but he’s been better than advertised for Erie. Averaging 20.2 points, Johnson, 26, has scored a career-high 46 points, which is a BayHawk franchise record.
He’s a force opposing teams haven’t been able to handle.
What has also helped Erie is its NBA affiliates – the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors – have sent down players. Cavs rookie forward Christian Eyenga played 15 games for Erie and the BayHawks won nine of them.
Toronto has assigned rookie center Solomon Alabi to the BayHawks twice for 11 total games and Erie won seven of those games with the 7-footer.
Erie had Toronto’s first-round pick, rookie forward Ed Davis, for two games at Fort Wayne and Cleveland rookie forward Samardo Samuels for two games against Dakota and the BayHawks won each of those games.
So they’ve gotten some help, but then again, the BayHawks have had games in which they’ve only had eight players and still won. Erie prides itself on defense, but when it needs to score big, it often does.
Johnson is the catalyst, but Erie has shooters surrounding him in Blake Ahearn, who they reacquired after trading Jackson, Kyle Spain and Temple, who is on a 10-day contract with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Add Derek Raivio, who can shoot, and Erie has four legit long-range threats. Then you add Tasmin Mitchell and Nate Linhart, whom can do a variety of things, and Kyle Goldcamp, who is their garbage man, and Erie has a complete team.
Considering Tasheed Carr was starting at the beginning of the season and can’t get on the court right now unless the team is in serious foul trouble shows how good they are.
It will be interesting to see how Loren Stokes fits in. The BayHawks just acquired him out of the D-League player pool earlier this week.
He’s a penetrator and scorer (had 2,148 points at Hofstra), but Erie hasn’t had a point guard who can get into the lane since trading away Jackson.
Stokes, 27, will likely fill the void left from Erie losing Dawan Robinson, 28, who was a savvy veteran that held things together.
If the playoffs started today, Erie would be a No. 4 seed and have home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The question is can they either one, overtake Iowa and win the East Conference. The two teams face each other five more times and four of those games are in Erie.