WALNUT RIDGE, Ark. (WBC) - As the Williams Baptist College men's basketball squad is preparing for the upcoming season, one thing has stood out in head coach Jeff Rider's mind.
That value Rider has seen is one that doesn't show up in the box score the next day or doesn't make headlines or ESPN Top Plays, but it creates a sense that beating top league foes such as McKendree or Columbia is not that far fetched. The values are hard work and team chemistry.
Rider explains, "Our returning players have set a very good example in the preseason. Most of them were committed to their conditioning over the summer and it has shown this fall."
The coach feels like one of the main qualities of his Eagles squad is the willingness to work together as a team to achieve its goals. "Our team has a willingness to play together, no matter whether it's a freshman or senior, to better ourselves and make us the best team we can possibly be."
Senior forward Marcus Massey added, "Our team really gets along well and I think it will pay off in the end and will help lead us to many victories this season."
Williams will look to a core of returners that saw plenty of action last season to lead the way this season in the rugged American Midwest Conference. Sophomore forwards Wes Livingston and Kyle Harvey will be looked upon to anchor the team in the middle this season. Livingston is WBC's leading returning scorer and rebounder with 11.2 points per game and 6.5 rebound averages last season. Harvey, who was slowed last season with a broken foot, came on late in the year to average 9.4 points and four boards.
Rider says he expects a lot of the two sophomores this season. "Wes and Kyle have both matured a lot from last season. I expect them to be ready to compete with the best the AMC has to offer this season. They both have shown the leadership of getting in shape and getting their bodies ready for AMC play."
Two other key returners who will be counted upon are senior guard/forward Marcus Massey and junior forward Alex Garmrath. Massey, who averaged nine points and three rebounds last season, will be counted on for not only his scoring and defense but his leadership on and off the court, according to Rider.
Livingston explained how important Massey is to the team, noting, "He has shown our freshmen what it takes to be a successful player in our league by working hard in the weight room and making a commitment to get better. He has shown me what it takes to be a leader that will not only help me this year but will help me be a leader in years to come."
Massey is excited for the upcoming season and feels this team has a lot of potential. "I think we can be better this year because of how well we get along and how hard we have worked this off-season. I am looking forward to the challenges this year presents," he said.
Garmrath will be counted on this season for his toughness, work ethic and leadership. "Alex is one of our hardest workers on the team. He will run through a brick wall if you asked him too," explained Massey.
Rider also realizes how Garmrath's leadership and work ethic has affected his team. "Alex works hard in the weight room and shows our younger guys what it takes to get the job done to be able to compete in the AMC. Alex is a returning player that we will count on a lot this season."
Rider expressed the need for some of his guards to step up and help the team reach its full potential. "Last year we lost our starting backcourt that had played most of the minutes. We will need our guards, whether be returning or newcomers, to really step up and fill the void left by those guards from last year."
Some of the returning guards that will be counted on this season are senior Alan Williams and sophomores Phillip Sykes and Shane Smith. Newcomers to watch at the guard spots are junior college transfer Logan Chappell, who transferred from Dyersburg State, freshman Caleb Carver from Scottsville, Ky., and fellow freshman Derrick Wooten from Lynn, Ark.
Rider praised the work ethic of the guards this offseason and thinks that three or four of them will step up and make a contribution. "They have been working hard and the new year brings new opportunities for players to prove themselves," the coach explained.
Another issue Rider thinks could slow down his squad is its lack of size in the front court. Williams' tallest player is freshman Garrett Southerland of Cabot, Ark., at 6'6". "In the AMC we will be going against 6'8" and 6'9" on a nightly basis. Our 6'4" and 6'5" will have to play bigger for us to be able and contain the size of other teams."
Another issue will be lack of experience on the roster. WBC returns only three upperclassmen who have played a game in the AMC and only five upperclassmen on the entire roster. "We have five sophomores who gained experience in the AMC last year and we are hoping they have matured like we think they have and are ready for the rigors of AMC play," said Rider
Williams again has another big freshman class to compliment last year's class with six freshman and two transfers in Dustin Osment of Jonesboro, Ark., and Chappell. Among the newcomers that will be counted on are guards Carver and Chappell. "Caleb and Logan have a chance to contribute to our backcourt immediately this season. We will be looking for both of them to step up and give us good minutes this year," Rider said.
A couple of other newcomers to watch are freshman forwards Jake Smith of Bernie, Mo., and Brock Johnston of Jonesboro. Livingston and Massey are counting on these two players to add depth to the front court.
"Brock and Jake come from winning high school programs and are hard workers and will be key in adding depth to our squad," Livingston explained.
Massey added, "Both these guys have come in and worked hard and have earned whatever playing time they will get."
The AMC will again be a tough league for WBC. In the preseason top 25 national poll, the AMC had two teams represented with McKendree ranked at number eight and Park University ranked 19th. Columbia College also received votes in the poll.
"This league is so tough again this year," Rider explained. "Everyone will be as good or better and we will have to really step up to be able to beat teams in this league."
Williams opens the season on October 30 against Ecclesia College at 4:00 p.m. It will be Homecoming/Parents Day for WBC.
by Caleb Livingston