By Jon Rothstein
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Norvel Pelle’s decision to attend Iona makes the Gaels a national story for the second consecutive season.
A consensus Top 50 recruit coming out of high school, Pelle committed to the New Rochelle school on Tuesday night.
With Pelle, a 6-9 shot blocker who initially committed to St. John’s before being ruled academically ineligible last fall, Iona has size and athleticism that’s probably never been seen before in the MAAC.
Out of high school, Pelle was courted by Oregon, Washington, UCLA, and the Red Storm. After failing to meet academic requirements last fall, the big man was sought after by DePaul, Auburn, San Diego State and others.
After the Gaels lost Scott Machado and Mike Glover following last year’s NCAA Tournament run, it seemed inconceivable that Tim Cluess’ team could be pick up right where they left off at the start of next season. But adding Pelle totally changes that thought.
With Pelle, power forward David Laury, who becomes eligible in December after transferring from Western Kentucky, sharp shooter Sean Armand, Momo Jones, and Toledo transfer Curtis Dennis, Iona could potentially have a more talented starting five than it did last year when they reached the field of 68.
That doesn’t mean the Gaels will be a better team than they were last season, but the buzz in New Rochelle has certainly become palpable for the second straight year.
A tremendous amount of Iona’s credit during the Cluess era has to be attributed to Gaels associate head coach Jared Grasso. A relentless recruiter, Grasso has been the point man in the recruitment of virtually every player Iona has signed since Cluess was hired in 2010.
The Gaels have gone through unconventional methods to upgrade their roster and there’s no questioning that Iona is now looked at as a landing spot for BCS level players that aren’t happy with their first college decision. It takes creative ways to win at the mid major level and it’s clear that the Gaels, thanks in large part to Grasso have found their niche.
Iona will need every ounce of their talent as they embark on a vicious non conference schedule before starting MAAC play. The Gaels play at Georgia, St. Joseph’s, La Salle, and St. Bonaventure, face Rutgers at Madison Square Garden, and will also take part in the Paradise Jam Tournament in the Virgin Islands in November.
With Laury out for the first semester, look for Cluess to surround Pelle regularly with four guards with the hopes of augmenting the speed of the game at the opening tip.
Basketball in New Rochelle just got real interesting. Again.
Just how far can these Gaels go? Make your prediction in the comments below…