ABOVE: Troy Baker, senior front, jumps to tip the ball from Braylon Steen, junior guard. The men’s basketball team split up for a scrimmage to prepare for the upcoming season. (Taylor Rodriguez/Staff photographer)

By Daegiona Wilson
Staff reporter

It’s almost time for the sound of basketballs dribbling and shots swishing.

The Moundbuilder men are ranked No. 13 in the NAIA Division II Top 25 Preseason Poll and were selected to win the conference in the KCAC coaches poll on Oct. 14.

The team looks toward reaching the national tournament for the fifth consecutive year.

Matt O’Brien, head men’s basketball coach, said it will take an unbelievable amount of hard work to continue the legacy the team has created. “We have to do things that are uncommon, and we have to do things that nobody else is doing to reach that goal.”

In the 2018-19 season, the Moundbuilders averaged 89.1 points per game, outscoring their opponents by 13.3 points.

The team finished the season with a 28-5 overall record , and a 20-4 conference record. They knocked off No. 1 Oklahoma Wesleyan in the KCAC conference tournament to head to the NAIA championships. They later fell to Marian University in a Sweet Sixteen showdown.

O’Brien said the team really hasn’t changed much during the off season. He said the team process has been the same since he began coaching at SC, and it has worked well, so following that formula is his key to success.

The team will have six seniors and this season and five transfers. O’Brien said, “Adapting is a process. It’s hard to say how well they have adapted until we start playing games.”

As for off the court, Drew Hamm, senior shooting guard, said balancing school and basketball is hard work and dedication. “A lot of people would rather choose the sport they play rather than school.”

Jarehn White, senior shooting guard, said that O’Brien has stressed the importance of education. “Freshman year, no matter who you are, or what grades you have, you have to go to study hall.”

They both agreed that working hard in the classroom will translate to working hard on the court.

Reaching the national tournament and potentially winning it is a goal for the team. O’Brien said, “Having the team stick together this season is what’s going to keep them going.”

Hamm said teammates trust each other. “Doing the little things and making sure everybody is buying in and knowing their role will be important.”

White said resilience matters. He said there are definitely a lot of different personalities, but each day they get better and better. “Once everyone knows what role they have, we will be better off as a team.”

 Hamm said hard work is vital.

The team will open by taking on College of Ozarks at 6 p.m. Oct. 28 in Stewart Field House for an exhibition game.

White expects it to be fun. “Coming off of homecoming, everyone is going to be here and it’s going to be good to see the alumni, get to meet with them again and share stories.”

Hamm said, “It’s going to be a great atmosphere.”

O’Brien will enter his 11th season as head coach. He said leadership is big for the team. “I don’t think we have one voice. Together we build a culture and everyone contributes to that culture.”

To view this season schedule, visit http://www.buildersports.com/schedule/21/1.