The men’s basketball program has been around since its original 1901-02 campaign, which ended with a lackluster 0-4 record. In that span, Wesleyan was never able to capture a berth to an NCAA DIII Championship—until last season. Though it made a first round exit against Skidmore College in NCAAs, the team also made history by taking home the program’s first ever NESCAC championship. By any measure, it was one of the most successful seasons in school history, and expectations will undoubtedly be sky-high as the 2015-16 season begins.
Of course, this year’s team will not be identical to the championship winning version. Chris Tugman and Tim Gallivan, both members of the class of 2015, provided the team with good size and earned solid minutes off the bench. However, all of the top six minute earners return, and only one player other than Tugman and Gallivan was lost to graduation. Compared to many competitors, this loss of talent should prove to be very manageable for eighth-year head coach Joe Reilly. One returning starter, BJ Davis ’16, expressed excitement about the amount of talent that would be returning to the team.
“I think returning our top seven scorers from the last season, all upperclassmen, will definitely help us,” Davis said. “Although we will miss the leadership and valuable minutes of last year’s seniors, we will be a very experienced team and that can only be beneficial to us in the long run.”
Though of course nothing is set in stone, the top six players in the rotation seem pretty firmly cemented. Davis and captain Jack Mackey ’16, who ended last year as the number three and number two scorers, will likely play the lion’s share of minutes at guard. Last year, Mackey set a school record by draining 77 three-pointers over the course of the season. Harry Rafferty ’17 also figures to get major run at point guard and should end up near the top of Wesleyan’s scoring leaderboard.
In the frontcourt, 6’8” center Joseph Kuo ’17 will return as the team’s tallest and arguably most productive player. Kuo led the team last year in points, rebounds, and blocks, and should be playing with a chip on his shoulder after being snubbed from the All-NESCAC first and second teams. Rashid Epps ’16 will likely play substantial minutes at power forward and hopes to improve on an efficient 2014-15 season. Rounding out the top six is Joe Edmonds, who should primarily play small forward. Last season, Edmonds set the school’s single-game record for three-pointers by sinking nine against Hamilton.
Though the Cards are not necessarily marked by one star player, they are consistent throughout the lineup and can find scoring from many sources. Davis believes that not having a go-to-guy will make the offense more difficult to contain.
“We have, in my opinion, the most depth in NESCAC, which will make it hard for teams to keep up with us day in and day out,” said Davis. “We are a very hard team to scout because we are so balanced offensively; there isn’t one guy you can really cue in on because we have so many weapons that can hurt you on the inside and from the perimeter.”
While of course the team would ultimately be happy with a repeat performance as NESCAC champions, the goal is always improvement. Luckily, Davis believes that the team is actually improved from last season.
“We’ve only gotten better,” said Davis. “We’ve worked extremely hard as a team this preseason, we’re all on the same page, we’ve brought in some great freshmen and we have some sophomores who didn’t get the chance to play last year due to injury that will get to see the floor this year and really help us flourish.”
Davis also elaborated on what aspects of their game the hard work of the preseason has helped improve.
“I think our main focus has been really getting after it on the defensive end,” said Davis. “We want to be a team that plays fast and puts a lot of points on the board and we realize that that starts on the defensive end of the floor. So we’ve really been trying to ramp up the defense in practice and make ball handlers uncomfortable so that we can force turnovers and get out on the fast break. Playing fast comes with a lot of conditioning so we’ve been focusing a lot on that too since we got back in September thanks to [assistant coach] Elijah Weeks.”
This weekend, the season tips off at home against Lyndon State College as part of the Herb Kenny Tip-Off Tournament at the Silloway Gymnasium. If Wesleyan wins the first game, it will face the winner of Endicott College vs. Clark University in the championship game. Davis and the team head into the tournament confident that they will defend their home court.
“As far as this weekend, our goal is obviously to win it all at home in our own tournament,” Davis said. “But we really want to put our offseason work to the test, we want to execute on both ends, play how we play, set the tone early, and show everybody that we are one of the better teams in the country, which we believe we are.”