Shawnee State men’s basketball kicks off their 2018-19 regular season Wednesday with a road trip to Circeville to face Ohio Christian University, and head coach Delano Thomas is taking some of the things he learned from his first season in the head role as his team prepares for their second year under him.
“We’re trying to take it one day at a time” said Thomas at Shawnee State’s media day last week, “I think last year we tried getting everything in so fast when it comes to the stuff we’re implementing: the rules, the plays. This year I think we’re trying to get the details together, and at the same time building a family atmosphere. I think the guys have really been doing a great job of that by buying in and getting to know their teammates better, and that should correlate to on the court.”
Shawnee’s men’s team finished last season 14-17 with a first round conference tournament loss to the University of Pikeville, 92-89. This year’s Bears team features a lot of new faces, and some returning ones as well.
Returning for Shawnee State is junior wing Tamal Watkins, sophomore wing Gavin Brown, junior forward Justin Johnson, junior wing Selby Hind-Wills, and sophomore forward EJ Onu.
The newcomers include junior wing transfer from Columbus State Community College, Chris Byrd, sophomore wing transfer from Morehead State, Austin Crawford, junior transfer point guard from Everett CC in Washingtion, Gio Jackson, grad transfer from Savannah State University, Juwan Grant, freshman point guard and Greenup County High School, graduate Michael Hubbert, junior wing transfer from Pennsylvania Heights CC Tim Biakapia, and freshman forward from Wellington High School Noah Berry.
The Bears were picked to finish eighth in the Mid-South Conference preseason coaches’ poll, and Thomas believes that’s mainly to do with the fact that Shawnee is bringing so many new pieces to the fold. “Of course, with seven new guys and then five returners from a year ago it was expected. For us, that’s just motivation” said Thomas, “We finished near the bottom of the standings last year, it’s okay for us to be in that spot in the preseason. It’s all about where you finish. We’re fine with that, we’re just going to use that as motivation.”
Tamal Watkins, one of the returning Bears from a year ago, echoed Thomas’ sentiments about how he himself will use that preseason ranking to work that much harder. “That’s definitely a big motivation” said Watkins, “When I walked into the locker room and they told me about it, I sat there and thought about it for about five minutes, just thinking about how we could be last. We’ve been working really hard this offseason, so that’s even more motivation on top of the fact of us wanting to be great ourselves, minus what others think of us.”
EJ Onu, another of the five returning players from Thomas’ first year as head coach, had a great freshman season for the Bears. Onu had a career high and program record eleven blocks against Cumberland (Tenn.) in January and averaged 3.4 blocks per game during his freshman campaign. “I’ve been working on stepping out and taking more threes” said Onu when asked about what areas of his game he’s been focusing on during the offseason, “I’ve also been working on my ball handlings skills as well”.
Selby Hind-Wills, the junior from The Holy Trinity School in Crawley, England, says that he believes he has taken on more of a leadership role with the seven new players that the Bears’ added during the offseason. “It definitely feels that way, especially since now I’m one of the older guys this year” said Hind-Wills, “We lost four guys that were our main players, so I definitely think my leadership has improved. I’ve got to take more charge, take more responsibility, teach the younger guys and the new guys how to get into our offense to be able to play with us.”
Among the very tough Mid-South conference schedule, Shawnee will also play a division one team in an exhibition game, the Kent State Golden Flashes. “Playing that level of competition definitely gears you for the Mid-South” said Thomas, “It definitely prepares you and it also allows them to see different grades of basketball. For us, it’s great to play them and then it’s tough for that next game whoever we’re playing against because we’re trying to play at that level again, because that’s what we just came out of playing a D1 opponent. It’s nothing but great for us.”
Shawnee State men’s basketball opens their home slate of the regular season next Friday night against Goshen College at 7:30 p.m., and Thomas is encouraging everyone to come out and watch his young team play and perform.
“For people who have not been down here to watch Shawnee State men’s basketball last year” said Thomas, “This year will be a great year to come and watch us. We were very exciting last year, 9-4 at home last year and did a great job, just kind of struggled on the road. Our brand of basketball is exciting for families, exciting for all kinds of people who enjoy the comradery and I think we’ll be competitive enough for that top spot in the Mid-South at the end of this year.”
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT