By Callie Lowery
The UMW men’s basketball team has gotten off to a slow start on their season, losing three out of their first four games. But that hasn’t stop the players from having faith in one another.
“I believe now we are more focused than ever, with losing three in a row, we have a bad taste in our mouth that we want to get rid of,” senior Matt Hale said. “We are a much better team than our record shows and we now know what needs to be done to win these games.”
For Coach Rod Wood the hardest part was getting through to the men about what needs to be done to win games. Wood has done numerous tactics to get his player’s attention. But just Monday, he put into effect his most recent tactic; opening up tryouts. The men now will have to re-tryout for their position on the team. The first round of cuts will be in three weeks, after the North Central College game.
“I don’t want to cut anybody, I love all my boys, but nobody is pulling their weight,” Wood said. “I have tried cutting their playing time and punishing them [by extra running] but it just goes in one ear and out the other.”
After coming off of their losses, the men have had a chance to see what they really are about and how to fix the problem. In preparation for the first home game against conference rivalry Hood College on Friday night, the team is focusing on the fundamentals: free throws, passing, defensive and offense.
“Hood always presents a challenge, they have a great coach and good players,” Hale said. “Any conference game presents a challenge especially this year because there is more on the line with only six out of nine teams making the conference tournament.”
Since practice started on October 15, Wood has been harping on them about practicing hard. The team is not developing the way he had planned so far. There has not been a high level practice physically or mentally since the first day and Wood believes everyone on the team has not been playing to the level they are capable.
“On Monday, after I told them about the new plan we had our best practice. I’ve been harping on them every day about playing on their levels,” Wood said. “Hopefully, this has got their attention and motivated them into the right direction, individually and collectively.”
All players are new to the succeeding or failing. The upperclassmen are new to this because in recent years, the team has been very successful and it was easy for them to make the transition. The freshmen are new to this type of play from high school. The players know where they need to be on an emotional and physical level and what they have to do to get there.
“I have raised the bar for my expectations based on my expertise and my professional opinion on where they need to be,” Wood said. “I’m setting a standard for myself and for this basketball program and I expect everyone to meet those expectations. It’s hard because I’m seeing potential in them and they are squandering it. ”
Talent has not been one of the problems for the team; it’s a lack of the consistency in intelligence and in effort. The upperclassmen know the drills and plays of the game so they know what to do; it’s putting it together on the court.
“We are working on increasing the intensity of our practices, while at the same time game planning for our opponents,” junior Ben Stokes said. “By game planning we are trying to identify [the other team’s] strengths and weaknesses.”
The players weren’t expecting Wood’s new tactic but he is hoping it will motivate them. Even if the team loses some of their next couple games, Wood is hoping the men’s intensity level will change if they really want to stay.
“Since nobody wants to be let off the team, I feel that this will motivate the guys,” Stokes said. “I think with a little motivation we will be able to get ourselves out of this rut.”
Hale agrees with Stokes in regards to wanting no one leaving the team.
“On this team we consider each other family, so with his new policy none of us want to see someone else leave,” Hale said. “We are all in it together and we will make sure we finish out together without losing anyone.”