Important Offseason Ahead For Men’s Basketball

Ryan Coyle, Reporter

The men’s basketball team will focus on improving players’ ‘skill sets and team chemistry this offseason with the goal of returning to the MAC playoffs.

To return to the top of the conference and win championships again, the Cougars need to have a strong offseason, said assistant coach Alexis Nunez. The team will complete individual workouts, play pickup games, and hit the weight room  daily over the summer.

“I think as a group we have to get tougher and be more focused. We also have to sharpen up our tools, but altogether it comes down to being a tougher and close knit group,” Nunez said.

Restoring that toughness will start in the weight room, he said, and players will be more physical when they step on the floor, Nunez said.

Collin Stivala,  statistics major, agrees with Nunez about making lifting an offseason priority. The first-year guard believes that if his teammates work hard to improve their strength, they will improve their defense and ultimately win games.

The goal of the 2018 season for the Cougars was to win their third consecutive MAC championship and return to the NCAA tournament, according to team members and coaches. Those plans didn’t come to fruition as the team ended the regular season with a 14-11 record, failing to live up to the program’s standards. That has lit a fire under not only the players, but the coaching staff as well, to work as hard as possible to claim the MAC championship yet again in 2019-2020.

Jake Bartholomew,  first-year guard, undeclared, said  he and his teammates need to improve their on-court chemistry. The team is losing seven seniors to graduation and will have a lot of new players in the rotation next season. To improve chemistry, the team will play pickup games Monday through Thursday during the spring semester and the upcoming fall semester. The games will help teammates become more familiar with each other’s skill sets and ultimately improve the team’s on court performance, Bartholomew said.

An improved team chemistry that the team will get back to their winning ways, he said.

“We have a bunch of gritty guys, and I know a lot of them are going to work hard and give everything they’ve got when they are out on the floor, so if we bring everybody together and everybody is playing like that on the same page we will be able to get back to our spot,” said Bartholomew. Bartholomew has confidence that his teammates are going to attack this offseason with heart and dedication and return to winning championships once again.

Stivala has faith that his teammates will be able to regain the strong team chemistry that led them to back-to-back championships, but he feels his teammates need to be more confident and just have fun playing their game.

“In some games, the problem wasn’t really chemistry but more so confidence. We couldn’t really find our confidence at times. It seemed like nothing was falling or going our way,” Stivala said.

He said the key to improving confidence is improving individual skill sets while becoming more physically fit. Then, when him and his teammates hit the court, he said  they will be confident knowing that this offseason they put in the hard work necessary to win ball games, Stivala said.

The player that has the biggest offseason ahead will be returning starting forward Tony Harding, who will replace the production left by two-time conference player of the year Jason Kenny.

Nunez is confident that if Harding gets in in peak physical condition and sharpens his tools, he could have a big senior season.

“I think Tony Harding is going to have a big year next year. He’s gonna step up and take his game to another level,” said Nunez.

Nunez is also a firm believer that the forwards and centers need to improve on their offensive low post game, as he believes the down low offense will be the team’s “bread and butter” next season, after relying heavily on the perimeter game during recent seasons.

“Honestly, I think that we were too complacent. Coming from back-to-back championships, we felt that the next year was going to be easy, so we kind of went through the motions instead of attacking the year with the same hunger as we did the last two years,” said Nunez.

As a member of the coaching staff, Nunez feels he and the other coaches need to push their players to new heights this offseason and demand more from them. The team can’t be complacent and look back at past success. They need to attack the offseason with a hunger to reach the top of the conference yet again, he said.

“Players need to elevate their game day in and day out to become champions once again,” said Nunez.