Top of the Mountain

by August 23, 2011

by Peter Walsh / @goinginsquad

Mid-major teams usually prepare for a slight drop off after winning a regular-season championship and earning an NIT birth, especially after graduating a strong senior class and losing a head coach.

But the Vermont Catamounts don’t plan on rebuilding; they plan on reloading, and the epicenter is sophomore forward Brian Voelkel. His game doesn’t jump out at you when you watch him play—it’s even a bit quirky, and lacks the fluidity that most fans are used to, but few players can fill up the stat sheet the way Voelkel can. Starting for the Catamounts from the moment he stepped on campus, he averaged 7.7 points, an America East-leading 9.6 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.6 steals per game during his rookie campagin.

Most kids develop a love for the game at a very young age, and spend countless hours working on their game hoping to achieve success at every level, but for Brian, basketball is in his DNA. Hailing from Pleasantville, NY, Brian comes from a family of ballers. His father, Raymond, played at American University in DC and still holds the NCAA record for most consecutive field goals. Following his playing career, Raymond built quite the resume as a coach, leading the Manhattan-based Collegiate School to numerous New York State titles.

Brian’s older brother Kevin, played at the prestigious Blair Academy before heading south to play his college ball at Division III Randolph-Macon. With these influences, it is no surprise that Brian developed an incredibly high basketball IQ, evidenced by his 2-1 assist-to-turnover ratio that ranked first in the America East last year.

More than anything, being a coach’s son has turned Voelkel into the consummate team player, willing to do the dirty work and set up his teammates for the betterment of the team. Sometimes, as former Coach Mike Lonergan pointed out, he’s a little too unselfish: “We want him to pass, because he’s the best passer probably I ever coached, but I also don’t want him to turn down three-footers or layups.” Voelkel’s team play rarely goes unnoticed, he was probably the only player in the country to receive a standing ovation from the fans for attacking the boards.

Brian is priming himself to become the next star at Vermont and leave his in the same capacity as former Catamount greats Tyler Coppenrath and Marqus Blakely, who each won multiple Conference Player of the Year Awards and dominated the league during their respective tenures.

As a freshman, Voelkel amassed a bevy of awards including America East Rookie of the Year. He was also was one of 21 freshmen to be named to the Freshman All-American Team, joining the likes of current and future NBA Players Brandon Knight, Jared Sullinger and Harrison Barnes. It’s hard to imagine Voekel having an even more outstanding season with the Catamounts, but after graduating many contributing seniors, it will be up to Brian to step up and provide leadership and scoring for a young, but dangerous Vermont squad.

Voelkel, along with emerging PG and former high school teammate Sandro Carrissimo, will look to make some noise at Patrick Gymnasium this season and lead the Cats back to The Big Dance.