By: Jamie Crawley
With winter around the corner, college hoops is starting to heat up, especially for Virginia Wesleyan’s Men’s Basketball team.
Team members say they are anxious to get back on the grind after last year’s season that saw them a few plays short of winning it all. As they come into the 2015-16 campaign, many analysts peg them as being one of the best teams in the nation due in part to the plethora of players returning from last year’s Final Four team.
With the games finally counting toward regular season tallies, many players say they are glad the season has officially started.
“We’re excited about it. We’re tired of beating up on each other in practice. We’re looking forward to beating up other teams,” senior forward Nick Doyle said.
“It feels great to get back on the court with my brothers… finally take our frustrations out on someone else and come together as a group. It’s a wonderful feeling,” freshman guard Keijon Honore said.
The Marlins opened their campaign against Wesley College and controlled the game throughout. They were able to reach a 19 point lead early in the second half. The Wolverines would answer, however, and pulled out the win in the final seconds of the game.
This was a tough pill to swallow for the Marlins, but the players say they are not letting it affect them.
“I felt this takes the pressure off our shoulders. There’s been a lot of talk around us with us being ranked number two, but now I feel like we can just play basketball and focus on us and not worry about anything outside of us,” Honore said.
“It was a big wake up call. It shows us that we have a lot of little things that we have to clean up… we also have to bring it every single day, no matter if we have the energy or not. We have a big target on our back and we’re going to get every team’s best shot every game. We just got to rise to the occasion,” Doyle said.
Junior forward/center Kaelin Poe echoed Doyle’s sentiments.
“It definitely opened our eyes to the truth that we can’t expect to walk into every gym and expect to win off straight talent. We have to be the hungriest team every time we step onto the floor,” Poe said.
The Marlins’ loss to Wesley may not have been the ideal start the team was looking for, but the players say they realize the benefit of growing and learning from the defeat.
The Marlins came back strong, winning the Marlin Tip-Off Tournament Nov. 20 and 21. The team edged out the championship game against Averett with junior guard Khory Moore leading the way, pacing the team with 25 points and securing the tournament MVP award. Nick Doyle and Kaelin Poe were also named to the All-Tournament team.
“I think winning this shows everyone is resilient and everybody has the same goal in mind of getting better every day…After losing to Wesley we learned we can’t accept complacency,” Poe said.
This year’s Marlins team returns a multitude of starters, but there is also a collection of new, talented young blood. The impact of these new additions was felt early on. Freshman guard Keijon Honore is transitioning to the college game quickly, netting 17 points off the bench and shooting over 50 percent from the field. He is also getting a large amount of playing time.
“I just want to do whatever the team needs me to do. My coaches and my teammates have a lot of confidence in me and that helps on the court, but I just want to do whatever it takes to win, whether that’s cheering for my team or shooting the last minute shot. It doesn’t matter to me. I just want to win at the end of the day.”
Justin Watson, the junior transfer from Christopher Newport University, poured in a team-leading 20 points in the opening game. Freshman Daevon Brown’s impact was felt in the tournament championship game as he netted nine points and five rebounds in nine minutes of action. Sophomore forward Corey White Jr. stepped into a starting role, providing solid energy and a strong defensive presence down low as shown by his three-block performance against Averett. Sophomores Kahlil Barnette and Kendric Washington are also bringing solid energy off the bench.
Currently standing at two wins and one loss, the Marlins look to continue to build off their tournament triumph and say they are prepared for the arduous campaign ahead of them.