The accolades just keep coming for Jon Pierce.
As a sophomore forward on the men's basketball team last year, Pierce led all NESCAC players in scoring and earned All-NESCAC Second Team honors. His 21.5 points per game were 26th in the country, and he was the first Jumbo in 12 years to average above 20 in that category.
Even before the 2008-09 season tips off tonight in Cousens, Pierce can add another award to the list: preseason All-American. Just don't try telling him the award is only about him.
"[The award] is a testament to the work that I've put in personally," said Pierce, now a junior co-captain. "But it's also a testament to the coaching staff and the support that they've given me in my first two years here and really helping and letting me grow as both a person and a player ... And it's also a testament to the guys around me. Everyone's on the same page, everyone's accepting, and everyone's supportive."
The support goes both ways. Up and down the roster, Pierce's teammates have respect for him, but it's equally clear that Pierce knows his role as the leader of the team and is ready and willing to begin his captaincy.
"I take being a captain very personally," Pierce said. "It's something I take a lot more seriously than the All-American or All-NESCAC things. It means that you can't have a bad day; you can't come into practice and be angry about the way a test went or upset with your girlfriend. You have to come in and be focused from the get-go because other guys are looking up to you."
Coach Bob Sheldon said he is impressed with the way Pierce has handled himself during the offseason. Each team member was expected to -- and did -- complete a mile run in under six minutes, and Sheldon credits Pierce's leadership with the encouraging results.
"He's been leading by example and he's been doing a great job of getting everyone on the same page," Sheldon said. "Now that we're on the court, his play is starting to lead us. He's our best player and that helps him be a leader."
On the court, Pierce displays a unique skill set. At 6-foot-5, he can back down a smaller opponent on the low block. With his ball-handling skills, he can take on a bigger defender off the dribble. And last year he made it clear to his opponents that leaving him open behind the three-point line was just about the biggest mistake to make.
"It's not pretty, and it's not like he's jumping up and dunking, but he can score," Sheldon said of Pierce's style of play. "He's strong on the block and he's got a great outside shot ... he can score from anywhere."
Last year, Pierce noticed that when he consistently drove to the hoop, opposing defenses collapsed in on him. Instead of relying on his strength to finish around the rim as he has done in the past, the junior co-captain has been working hard throughout the offseason to add even more skills to his repertoire and become more versatile.
"This year I want to focus more on pulling up for that mid-range jump shot, that 10-foot jump shot that I think I can get uncontested," Pierce said. "I think that's going to add an element to my game that teams really need to be aware of."
Both Pierce and Sheldon also realize that with the accolades comes increased focus from opposing defenses. Possibilities range from a box-and-one to near-constant double teams to picking Pierce up full-court. And while both player and coach are aware of the defensive attention Pierce will garner, both agree that the key will be a balanced team offense.
"We've got some guys around him that can score too," Sheldon said. "I think it's going to make it harder for people to guard him if [junior] Dave Beyel, [senior co-captain] Aaron Gallant and [junior] Dan Cook become shooters and scorers."
"I play a part in that, just like the other 14 guys on the squad," Pierce said. "Other teams might think, 'If we take away Pierce, then no one else will beat us,' but that's just not going to be true with this team."
Ultimately, Pierce remains focused on winning games. He said he is frustrated with last year's results -- an 11-13 record coupled with a last-place finish in NESCAC play -- and is ready to do whatever is necessary to reestablish a winning tradition in Cousens Gym.
"Honestly, I would rather average 10 points and have us win NESCACs and go deep into the playoffs than average 22 and have us go out in the first round," Pierce said. "My goal is to do whatever it takes to win as many games as we possibly can."