The gym is packed, the crowd is roaring, the players are at half court awaiting the opening tip that will put the 2009-2010 season underway. That will be the scene on Friday night as the UMW Men’s Basketball team takes on Lynchburg College at the Roanoke Tipoff Tournament.
The men’s team is coming off a 14-12 season which ended with a loss to Wesley College in the CAC Tournament semifinals. However, this year’s team will look much different then the one the Eagles put out on the court a year ago. The most noticeable loss from last year is guard Matt Hale, who has since graduated. When asked how to replace a player of Hale’s caliber, Men’s Basketball Coach Rod Wood kept it simple:
“You don’t. You just hope that as a team you can make up for his loss.”
The new point guard to take over for the aforementioned Hale will be freshman Bart Reese, who according to Wood will be the first freshman to start for UMW at that position in nine years. But Reese is just one of many young players that will play a big role in this year’s team, as the Eagles will start two freshman and two sophomores around star Senior Center Brandon Altmann.
Regarding his young team, Wood said, “It is such a huge difference from high school to college. We’re a 400-level class and these guys are at a 100-level. They’re still learning the speed of the game and they’re learning the strength of the game, and it usually takes a year or two for them to get that down.”
The lone veteran starter, Altmann, was named as a pre-season All American by D3Hoops.com, and Wood confirmed that the offense is going to work around his big man.
“We will go to him [Altmann], as much as possible. At this level, 6’9 ½ you just don’t get, especially with his skills. We’re going to need a great year and a consistent year from him [Altmann].”
Wood emphasized how he has to be careful with this young team because young players tend to hit a wall late in the season that causes their play to drop off. To try and avoid hitting that wall, Wood says that he will implement a mass subs approach where all five players on the court will be taken out at once and an entirely new unit will be put in their stead. Wood thinks that the second team, which he called the “special unit”, can do some things that the starting unit maybe isn’t as good at.
“We hope that they’re going to give us a little more pressure on the ball and be able to push it and spread the court a little bit more offensively. But the main thing we want to get from them is that when they get into the game that the score stays the same at worst.”
Another important part of using the special unit is that the young players on that squad can get valuable minutes to help give them experience for the future.
The CAC remains a very strong basketball conference from top to bottom. Last year’s CAC regular season champ, St. Mary’s College, looks as though they will be a force once again and the same can be said of Wesley College, who was last year’s tournament champs. Coach Wood seemed unsure of the prospects for this season, but he remained somewhat optimistic.
“I know that it’s going to be a struggle early on. I think that we can make a run at a title late. I don’t think that our record will be as gaudy as it has been in the past, but I really don’t know what to say yet.”
So with this young team it seems as though it will be a wait and see approach. If they put it together and the young players step up to the challenge and produce, then maybe a run at a conference title is indeed possible. But if the young talent is slow to adjusting to the college level, then it could be a frustrating season for Eagles fans as they endure a team dealing with growing pains.