BY BROOKS HOLTON – SPORTS EDITOR
To say that the Centre College Men’s Basketball team has been on quite a run of late would be a gross understatement. With NCAA tournament appearances in seven of the last nine years, the SAA champion title for two of the last three years, and a preseason Top 25 ranking entering 2015, Centre’s team is one of five in the nation to win two-thirds of their games every season since 2002—alongside Division I powerhouse programs like Kansas and Duke.
What’s their secret? Taking the season one day, one detail at a time.
“We always talk about and focus on what we can actually control and that’s the simple concept of getting better every single day as an individual and as a team,” Coach Greg Mason said. “If we take care of each individual issue, then the end result is generally a good one.”
The Colonels enter the new season in an odd position, but one that could prove to be instrumental to the team’s success in 2015: with a chip on their shoulder and a target on their back. A share of the 2014 regular season SAA title is one thing, but missing out on the opportunity to win their third-straight SAA Tournament and earn an NCAA bid has the team hungry for more.
“We compete with the highest goals in mind, and that starts with a conference championship,” senior and 2014 SAA Defensive Player of the Year Tyler Wesley said. “Our expectations are to be amongst the best in our conference and compete with the better teams in all of Division III.”
Wesley, one of just four seniors on the team, will be an integral cog in the march towards reclaiming the SAA crown. Alongside fellow senior, 2014 All-SAA forward and National Top 24 selection for the South region Blake Scinta, the duo makes up an experienced frontcourt that will be asked to consistently produce in the biggest of moments all year.
“I feel confident in saying that there is not a better low post combination than Blake and Tyler at our level,” Mason said. “Both are elite level players and both have been in a number of big-time games. They are doing a good job with team leadership as well.”
Leadership will also be a big theme of the 2015 campaign. Out of the 17 players on the roster, seven are freshman. While that leaves Wesley, Scinta, and seniors Michael Arnett and Bryan Repishti with the lofty task of steering the team towards success while passing down the virtues and expectations of the program to the younger players, the class of 2016 looks more than up to the challenge.
“As a senior on the team your role is to constantly bring energy to practice and lead by example,” Scinta said. “We need to work on getting the freshman up to speed on playing college basketball since it differs a lot from the high school basketball they played the year before. The great leadership that is on this years team will help speed up this process though.”
The youth of the team also means that juniors and sophomores will have to step up and “play old,” as Mason put it. Junior and 2014 All-SAA honorable mention Matt Gump will have to contribute in a big way and control the game from the guard position, and there should be plenty of opportunities for freshman to develop their skill set and grow into productive roles on the team through game experience with the team losing a couple of key starters from last year.
“We need some of these young guys to come in and contribute to our team right away in whatever way they can,” Wesley said. “Ultimately we want to win, but the results come when everything else falls into place.”
Looking at the bigger picture, the 2015-2016 season will be vital in building momentum back up in the program after coming up short in the SAA Tournament and missing out on the postseason last February. With a lot of younger players entering their first or second seasons in Centre Basketball, the leaders of the team will have to leave a lasting impact that carries over in the years to come.
“The legacy that we want to leave is one that has been left behind for many years since Coach Mason has been here,” Scinta said. “That is a winning program on and off the floor. We want to represent our school in the best way possible.”
If the team continues to buy into the process, don’t expect anything less than an exciting and competitive product being put on the court for years to come. The Colonels will open up the season on Nov. 15 at home against Maryville College, with tip-off scheduled for 4:00 pm.