Led by Captains Zach Lynch ’14 and Glen Thomas ’14, the men’s basketball team is looking to find success in the upcoming season with a completely different makeup from last year’s squad. After graduating the Cardinals’ all-time leading scorer, Shasha Brown ’13, along with four other extremely successful seniors, this year’s team holds a whopping 10 underclassmen on the 15-man roster.
“It’s a completely different look,” said Head Coach Joe Reilly. “It’s been fun, and it’s been energizing and refreshing to have a group of young guys. We’ve gone from a very experienced team to a very young team, and that’ll be exciting.”
Last season, the Cardinals finished with a 12-13 record overall, and with a 4-6 record in NESCAC matchups. Their in-conference play was good enough to land them the sixth seed in the eight-team NESCAC playoff bracket before being eliminated by third-seeded Middlebury.
After losing its top four scorers from last year, Wesleyan will look to Thomas to step into a scoring role this season, heading a more balanced offensive attack that relies more on depth. With so many spots open for playing time, it will be interesting to see who steps up to propel the Cardinals’ offense this season.
“In the past few years, we had a very good idea of who our leading scorer was going to be and who our starters were going to be,” Reilly said. “This year, it’s really wide open, so it’s been really fun because the competition across the board for starting spots and for playing time has been very intense, and I think that’ll continue throughout the year.”
Wesleyan’s frontcourt will be headed by Thomas, who fell just 0.1 rebounds away from leading the NESCAC in rebounds per game last season. Forward Rashid Epps ’16 will also serve as a force on the glass; he finished third on the team in boards per game last year.
In the backcourt, Brian Bartner ’16, Bryan Galvin ’15, and Lynch will all return as potential guards for the Cardinals. Each player split time evenly last year off the bench, while Galvin led the trio in assists per game. The team will need to adjust its style of play without last year’s backcourt attack of Brown and Derick Beresford ’13, who scored 17.2 and 12.4 points per game, respectively.
“I think that you’re harder to guard when you have a lot of threats on the court, as opposed to one or two guys that you’re really trying to feed the ball,” Reilly said. “This year we’re preaching more balance, and I think it’ll be a real fun way to play.”
As a part of this balanced style of play, Reilly has stressed to his team that everyone and anyone has the potential to step up as a leader. Apart from Thomas, nobody on this year’s team played more than 13 minutes per game last season.
“There are leadership opportunities for everyone on the team,” Reilly said. “Leadership is influence, and you don’t inherently become a good leader because you’re older; you’re a good leader because you have a positive influence on the team.”
One of the team’s strengths last year was its defense, as the Cardinals ended up allowing the second-fewest points per game in the NESCAC. Much of this success on defense could be attributed to the team’s overall rebounding ability. The Cardinals finished last season third in the NESCAC in rebounds per game, while they also allowed the least amount of opponent rebounds per game in the conference.
Last year’s squad ranked seventh in three-point field goal percentage in the NESCAC, and tied for 10th in threes made. This year, Reilly is putting an emphasis on shooting from beyond the arc in the team’s early practices.
“I think we have more shooters this year than last year,” Reilly said. “I think at the college level, particularly in Division III and the NESCAC, that three-point shooting really helps to be competitive.”
Winter sports teams were not allowed to have formal practices until Nov. 1, so the Cardinals will have had only two weeks of practice before their first game on Friday, Nov. 15 at home against Coast Guard Academy. The game will be played as part of the second annual Herb Kenny Tip Off Tournament at Silloway Gym, which will also host Dickinson College and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.
“We’re going in blind a little bit the first weekend,” Reilly said regarding the quick beginning to the season. “I think we have to be team-first [this weekend]. Guys have to accept their roles, and be ready to sacrifice to do anything to win. I think that if we come together as a team, we can be pretty dangerous.”