By Jake Loel
I managed to catch up with an exhausted Zach “Frodo” Royal after the University of Dallas men’s basketball squad had a hard, late-night workout last Tuesday. The senior business major from Chandler, Ariz., says his basketball career began humbly at a YMCA in Arizona. He started playing in a rec league with many of his first and second-grade friends.
“[It was] very low-key,” he said. “We had a game every Friday.”
Royal played basketball, along with baseball and soccer, for most of his youth. He represented his high school, Hamilton High School, in all three sports.
Royal, a 5-foot-9-inch guard, has played four years here at UD. Playing collegiate basketball at any level, and especially at the NCAA level, is a “struggle.”
“You don’t have an advantage at your position,” he said. “You play guys who are 6 foot 4, 6 foot 3 and even 6 foot…they’re distinctly at an advantage.”
Head Coach Jarred Samples has historically worked with a team that is smaller in size, and currently seven of the 20 players on this year’s squad are under 6 feet tall. Luckily, this means that he knows how to train them for success. The team now knows how to overcome the disadvantage. According to Royal, the players employ strategies utilizing their quickness, such as running ball screens.
Looking to the upcoming season, Royal is hopeful, although their conference ranking is not high. “According to the SCAC [Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference],” Royal said, “We are projected to finish second to last [in the conference], but of course that is not our goal. We have a very good team this year, and there’s no reason we shouldn’t finish on top of the SCAC.”
When asked to identify one key player on the team, Royal struggled to choose just one standout. Last year, he said, the obvious choice would have been senior center Ross Davidson, a transfer who had previously played for the University of Arizona Wildcats. According to Royal, this year, the team’s starting five are all fantastic.
“You know, you’ve got [senior guard] Blaine Blackburn, probably the best shooter in the SCAC … [senior point guard] Kym Malone, whose quickness on defense will pick us up … he’s one of the fastest and most active point guards in the league,” he said.
“We’ve also got [guard Michael] Sarrat, a sophomore, who’s got the ability to shoot just as well as Blaine when he’s covered,” Royal added. “To single out somebody would be hard.” The team’s big men, however, will play a key role.
“[Senior] Mark Promberger, [senior] Aaron Wyatt, and [sophomore] Tom Kaiser … they run a really good rotation.” Royal predicts that Blackburn will be the player to watch for shots, and Malone will have the most assists.
Royal says that he is certain that this is the year the team will qualify for the NCAA tournament. On Dec. 3, the Crusaders have their home opener against the Southwestern Adventist Knights. The women’s basketball team will play at home that day as well. The new team mascot, a “Crusader,” will be present. In the meantime, the men head to Sherman, Texas and then to Portland, Ore. for some big games on the road.