By Samantha Gillis
Unity is the new vision for the men’s basketball team—at least according to Matt O’Brien, head coach. With no promises to win, O’Brien wants to build his basketball program on a foundation of character rather than stats and gleaming gold medals. O’Brien feels his non-traditional approach has served him well in the past, and he is confident it will lead his new team in the same direction.
The team plays its first game Nov. 5 in Oklahoma, against Mid-America Christian University, who went 3-28 overall last season. The Builders prevailed over MACU last year with a score of 86-77.
Despite the win, O’Brien sees some challenges. “It’s going to be difficult to play against Oklahoma. We’re going to be on the road and they are NAIA, Division I team,” he said.
There are other challenges such as a disadvantage in height. With three Mid-America players at 6’9 and only one Builder at 6’5, the team will have to rely on their speed. “We have fairly solid speed on the team. Justin Diggles (senior guard) is explosive from the half court, and Tim Miser (senior guard) is a fast guard who can get into the lane.” O’Brien said.
But this is not new for O’Brien, who has never coached a player over 6’5. “My past teams have always been undersized. We always relied on unity, hustle and unselfish players,” he said.
Diggles said, “We are going to be a run, endurance team. No set plays– just if you see someone pass it to them.”
Now that Diggles is finally back on the court after his knee rehabilitation, he said he felt “like a big kid in a candy store.” He describes his injury as ‘fun.’ “I went from 193 (pounds) to 184 (pounds),” he said.
In light of the ACL injury of David King, senior post, the team has made some adjustments in its playing style. O’Brien said, “(We will focus) more on a concentrated effort on our transition effort offense verses our half court offense.”
O’Brien has recognized one player in particular who has stepped up, in the place of King. “Stuart Ballard (junior forward). If he plays with as much confidence as I have in him he is going to be a special player for Southwestern,” he said. In the past Ballard has played minimal minutes, O’Brien said. As a post who is a willing and able passer, O’Brien sees Ballard as a weapon.
Ballard, said, “Yes, there is a little pressure, especially considering I have to try and replace the production of an All-Conference player. But I believe I have worked hard and I am ready.”
Under the course of three scrimmages against Butler Junior College, the team was able to preview their abilities before their first game. The men only won one of their three scrimmages. “But they are humble and willing to learn,” said O’Brien.
O’Brien wanted to use the preseason scrimmages and games to get every player a chance to show what they can do. “Paul Campbell, a freshman (guard) showed a tremendous amount of effort,” O’Brien said.
“I think the freshmen are going to continue to grow,” Diggles said.
Being a player who worked hard and was willing to do anything for his team but didn’t get much playing time was how O’Brien describes himself in his hay days at Friends University. “I always hated players who wouldn’t hustle, players who weren’t team first mentality,” he said. From this he has developed his philosophy on coaching.
This is why he aspires to build a team from character rather than skill. A team that can depend on each other. “The fox hole is great test to see the perception your players have on each other. I, for one, would want every single one of these guys in my fox hole,” said O’Brien.
Selfishness was the catalyst to last season’s struggles according to Ballard, but another problem, he said, was “No chemistry. It seemed like losing was accepted and nobody cared.” This year the team has morphed into a team who brings it every day and hates losing, said Ballard.
O’Brien is still uncertain of the starting five for Thursday. “We probably won’t know until the tip off,” he said.
“The first game is a statement which will hopefully provide momentum for the rest of the season,” Ballard said.
“I will go out there and have no mercy on anyone—it’s game time, it’s time to go,” Diggles said.
Their first home game is 7 p.m., Nov. 9 against Hillsdale Baptist College.
Samantha Gillis is a junior majoring in convergent journalism. You may e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.