Freshmen bring fresh opportunity

Junior guard Manson Degenkob calls for a screen during Taylor's first home game of the season.

Andrew Nevins | Echo

The Taylor men’s basketball team is looking forward to a fresh start in the form of six new and talented freshmen.

The Trojans are looking to improve upon a 16–15 record and a loss to rival Indiana Wesleyan University that ended the 2017–2018 season in late February.

The team understands that it will be facing challenges during the year, but is confident that its new-look squad will begin clicking and make some noise in the Crossroads League this season.

Senior forward Jake Heggeland cited chemistry as being his team’s biggest challenge throughout the first five games.

“Part of the game of basketball is that there are five guys on the court, and they all have different jobs at any given time, but it all has to come together for it to be successful,” Heggeland said. “I think we struggled with that a little bit the first four games.”

Taylor opened its season with five straight losses, including one to NCAA Division I program Miami of Ohio. The Trojans were able to remain close in the other four contests, but the lack of coherency ultimately took its toll.

However, thanks to the help of freshmen big men Jason Hubbard and CJ Penha, the team was able to turn a 38–31 halftime deficit against Governors State on Nov. 10 into an 85–68 victory in a game that could be the turning point of their season.

“Especially in the second half we really played well, we were clicking, and we were making the right decisions in our offense, and defensively we were playing together,” Heggeland said.

Heggeland added that the team often talks about a concept called a J-curve. Essentially, this is a way of plotting time versus success where a team gets a bit worse at the beginning before growing and improving.

With all of the new talent on the roster, the team has to find different ways to use their skills in order to be effective. This can mean breaking down old habits in order to build new ones, which often results in early season struggles.

The Trojans are hoping that they have created enough good habits in the past couple of weeks in order to unlock the potential that they know is there.

“As we continue to get better, I think it will take us as far as we can go. For us, I think it’s definitely a possibility to win our conference or be in the top two or three,”  junior guard Mason Degenkolb said. “A lot of our games so far and just through the stretch of conference get decided by two, three, four points, so a lot of that is just going to be in finishing games.”

Degenkolb went on to explain that Head Coach Josh Andrews always finds a word that he uses as a sort of theme for that season.

This year’s word is Kairos, which translates to doing the right thing at the right time, not passing up opportunities, and seizing the day.

“We only get one year with this particular group of guys, and we want to make sure we’re seizing this year. seizing the moment,” Degenkolb said. “Whether that’s in practice every day, or in games, or just in the little times throughout the day . . .  just doing the right things at the right times to put us in position to win games.”

Coach Andrews has sent a very clear message to his team throughout the preseason and the first part of the regular season. That message is that he wants the team to be the best at getting better.

He hopes the fans will start to sense the Trojans becoming more rhythmic and more together as the season goes on.

“We use a phrase a lot where we say ‘mind right, game right’, it’s keeping the right mentality and then we’ll be moving towards the style of play we want to play,” Andrews said. “As the season goes on, we’ll improve.”

Taylor’s freshmen class brings a new element of youthful energy and athleticism to the table that it seemed to lack at times last season. Andrews and company know they have one of the highest ceilings in the conference and feel that they are on the brink of reaching it.

The Trojans will continue their season on Nov. 20, with a home matchup against Bethel College at 7 p.m.