After a disappointing season a year ago, the University of Dallas men’s basketball team looks to bounce back with many new faces.
The team graduated four seniors, three starters among them, and has an entirely new coaching staff to assist 10th year head coach Jarred Samples.
“I think that this season, there’s just a lot of question marks — you know, graduating three senior starters,” Samples said. “Everyone is going to be in different roles, and [there are] new guys getting thrown in the mix, so that’s what we’re trying to figure out.”
Last year, the team lost three-year starter Mike Sarrat as well as two-year starters Tom Kaiser and Lorenzo Gonzalez. However, the team returns two of its leading scorers in juniors Darrius Colvin and Prince Giadolor, and is excited about its new crop of freshmen.
“I think this is the best freshman class since I’ve been here,” said senior Manny Calton. “I mean that talent-wise, but also conceptually, they understand the plays much better than I did when I was a freshman. They understand the feels, the instincts of the game much better than I did when I was a freshman.”
Calton and Solomon Berezin are the only two seniors on the team. Both have battled injuries throughout their careers, but have come into this season healthy and ready to finish their careers strong.
“I think Manny’s been great,” Samples said. “Manny’s got that personality that he connects with everybody, whether they’re a freshman or a senior, junior, he just has that personality about him.”
Samples was also complimentary of Berezin.
“He’s a guy that’s not as vocal as Manny but leads by example; tremendous work ethic,” Samples said. “Again, another guy that knows what we do and how we play, and it’s a guy that the younger guys can look to and say, ‘hey this is how you’re supposed to play, how you’re supposed to work out.’”
The team will also rely on some younger talent to give them a boost, and are particularly excited about sophomore Matt Richelsen as well as freshmen John Russell and Spencer Levi.
Richelsen missed his senior year of high school as well as the first half of last season with a knee injury, but played well down the stretch and proved himself as a versatile forward.
Russell redshirted last year with a knee injury as well, but can shoot from the perimeter and moves well despite being 6 feet 7 inches tall.
Levi is an athletic freshman who is also 6 feet 7 inches tall. Samples says that he dunks easily and beats a lot of the guards when the team runs sprints in practice. The team is excited about his talent and sees him as an immediate contributor.
The frontcourt also features junior Ben Norton, a strong, physical center who continues to develop his skills around the basket.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever had a frontcourt this deep,” Samples said.
The biggest question mark on this team is the point guard position, as the team has lost Gonzalez. Samples, a former point guard himself, typically puts a lot of responsibility on his point guard, but is taking a different approach this year.
“I’m all on the Brad Stevens (Boston Celtics head coach) philosophy, obviously he’s a lot smarter than me, … in his mind, the NBA talks about positionless basketball, but there’s [still] ball handlers, wings, and forwards,” Samples said. “That’s kind of how I look at our roster right now. It’s ‘who are our ball handlers, who are our wings, and who are our forwards?’ We’ve got guys who can play multiple spots of those.”
Guys like Colvin, Giadolor, Calton and Berezin will likely handle the ball a lot.
The team finished 2-12 in Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC) play last season, but looks to improve on that this year.
“The big thing is just team chemistry,” Colvin said of last year’s struggles. “Even if you don’t like the people you’re around, just work with the people you’re around — that’d be big for when we’re on the court. I feel like we had spurts of selfishness within a lot of people last year, that if we can cut that out this year, we can be really good, sky’s the limit.”
There is a lot of turnover around the SCAC as well, and the team feels like they can compete.
“I think my overall goal for the season is to win the SCAC tournament,” Colvin said. “I think that would be pretty fun, I mean I’ve never even been part of a team that went to the SCAC tournament, so it’d be kind of fun to win it.”
The Crusaders will have to get used to each other first.
“We’re all adjusting, including myself, to the newness, and we’re still trying to feel each other out and feel just the whole new situation,” Calton said. “It is a new slate, and I’m trying to get acquainted and adapted to new coaches and new teammates.”
The Crusaders begin their season at home against Millsaps College on Nov. 15 at 5:30 p.m.