Following one of the best season’s in program history, the Islander men’s basketball team held an open practice as the regular season draws nearer.
During their Open House on Oct. 17, the practice mostly consisted of full-court drills and shelling offensive sets. The team began official practices for the 2017-2018 season on Oct. 2. Members of the team said they have progressed significantly from day one to the present.
“I feel like we’ve grown tremendously,” senior guard Joseph Kilgore said. “The leaders have done a good job making sure the freshmen and sophomores get acquainted with the systems.”
Head coach Willis Wilson echoed this sentiment.
“The young guys are picking up the system and the sophomores are a little more confident,” Wilson said. “The leaders are leading better and the followers are following better. I think, as a result, our production has improved.”
The Islanders have five true freshmen on the roster going into the season. Redshirt senior guard Emmanuel Toney said it’s the responsibility of the more experienced players to help mentor the younger players.
“We [upperclassmen] just have to make sure we lead by example,” Toney said. “We’ve been here, we know the system. We have no excuses.”
Toney said the rapid progression of the younger players has elevated the team as a whole.
“The bottom half of the team has lifted up,” Toney said. “The competition level has increased and we’re able to execute at higher level.”
This mentality carries over to the more seasoned players. Kilgore said he and the other upperclassmen expect more from themselves.
“If I’m at my best, the coaches will be at their best and my teammates will follow along,” Kilgore said. “They have a good example to follow.”
Coming off a historic 24-12 season in 2016-2017, the Islanders look to keep the momentum going into the new season. For the freshmen, the season is about firsts and new experiences. For players such as Toney, it represents opportunity.
Toney sat out last season due to injury. This year, he said this year’s group gives him confidence.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Toney said. “We’re excited for the year. Feels like being home again.”
Holding their teammates accountable was a theme throughout practice. Once the team finished running through their offensive sets, the gathered at halfcourt for what coach Wilson calls the Circle Challenge.
The Circle Challenge lets each player on the team rate their own performance in practice that day on a scale from one to five. Once the team had completed their self-evaluations, some team members shared their feelings for the upcoming season.
“I’m excited. We’ve just got to take it one day at a time and focus on the next practice,” Toney said. “When it comes, we’ll be ready.”
The Islanders kick off their season at home on Nov. 2 at home against the Javelinas of Texas A&M University-Kingsville