By ALEX MULHALL – STAFF WRITER
The Centre Men’s Basketball team was playing at a high level before most of America even knew what a Kardashian was.
Over the past eight seasons, they have managed to win seven conference titles. On top of that, the 2014-2015 team is coming off two consecutive NCAA tournament berths, including a first round win against the LaGrange College Panthers last year.
All the recent success would normally inflate a program’s ego, but Head Coach Greg Mason has no trouble keeping things in perspective.
“With us winning seven of our last eight conference titles, sometimes the expectations of others outside the program can become a burden,” Mason said. “But we don’t talk about or focus on the past. We just try to get better everyday and enjoy the journey.”
With how bright the future is for this team of Colonels, looking forward is not a hard thing to do. Despite losing Donavan Whiteside, an All-Southern Athletic Association (SAA) First Team forward, and Collin Lopez, an All-SAA Honorable Mention shooting guard, all members of the Centre Class of 2014, this year’s team should have no problems producing on both ends of the court.
Junior forward/center Tyler Wesley was named SAA Defensive Player of the Year after leading the conference in blocks with 69 and finishing fourth in rebounding with 215 total rebounds.
Senior guard/forward Josh Karsner was awarded First Team honors and junior forward/center Blake Scinta was named to the Second Team. All three, along with senior guard Michael Geegan, captain this year’s squad.
“[Karsner] was a First Team player coming off the bench last year. That just tells you how unselfish of an individual he is,” Mason said.
The biggest roster difference for this year’s team will be at the guard position. Sophomores Andrew Steggeman and Matt Gump will be starting at point and shooting guards, both of whom will be in constant rotation with Geegan and junior Bryan Repishti.
“We’ve always been a very balanced, team minded program,” Geegan said. “The attitude this year has mainly been to play through [Tyler] Wesley and [Blake] Scinta. They’re the best post duo in the conference, so we want to take advantage of their abilities.”
Scinta, Wesley, and the rest of the Centre big men have a new instructor on their low post game. Assistant Coach Ryan Wiersma comes to Centre after a great playing and coaching stint with the Eastern Kentucky University Colonels.
“Having a coach that has so much experience at such a high level has transferred well to our game,” Scinta said.
“Ryan has been doing a great job with our bigs,” Mason said. “That is the strength of this team. His understanding of offensive basketball is fantastic thanks to his time spent with two of the best offensive minds in the game, Coach Jeff Neubauer [Head Coach of Eastern Kentucky University] and Coach Mike Maker [Head Coach of Marist College].”
Between the dominant inside presence, the constant perimeter threat, and the all around good defense, this team has the talent to aspire to high goals for this year. However, thanks to Mason’s level-headedness, those hopes are tempered in a grounded reality.
“We feel we can beat the best team on our schedule but whoever is the worst team on our schedule could beat us if we don’t come prepared to play,” Mason said. “What I’ve found is that just ‘winning trophies’ does not add tremendous value to any life. I tell the guys to just go enjoy the day to day process of playing the sport you love.”
That idea–to enjoy every game of the season and play like it’s your last–is an attitude held by the entire team.
“Rather than looking to the future and trying to predict how far we can make it in the tournament, we want to play every game like it’s the last one on our schedule,” Karsner said.
There are plenty of games on the schedule to get excited about. Home games against rivals Transylvania Univeristy Pioneers (Nov. 19), Birmingham Southern College Panthers (Jan. 15), and Oglethorpe University Stormy Petrels (Feb. 1) are sure to be high energy games for the team.
They are hoping that the student body can come out and give them even more energy to feed off of.
“We love it when we have a packed student section. A great crowd can completely alter the flow of the game and can give us a momentum swing we need,” Repishti said.
Based on recent history, this year promises to be another very exciting year for the Colonels.
“With a little more success last year than the year before, we are returning a veteran, mature team,” Geegan said. “Every one of us is committed to improving each day to get where we want to be. If we take care of the little things and trust in the process, the rest will take care of itself.”
The coaching is there. The talent is there. The hunger is there. All that’s left is for us to come out and support our Colonels this season.
In the words of infamous National Football League wide receiver Terrell Owens, “get your popcorn ready.” You won’t want to miss this.