By David Parker
With the home opener against Judson University (Ill.) on Nov. 7 approaching, the Olivet Nazarene University men’s basketball team will be adjusting to new leadership and new players on the court.
Head coach Ralph Hodge is well aware of the challenges the team will have to face, as several of its top varsity players graduated last year.
“We have a talented group, but we have a number of players who are young and inexperienced, so there will be some growing pains,” Hodge said. “We have eight or nine incoming freshman and four or five redshirt [freshmen], and we have only a few players that had a significant number of minutes last year.”
Despite the circumstances, Hodge is looking forward to the season.
“It’s exciting, because there are a lot of open opportunities,” he said. “Someone will need to step up at every position, whether it’s an incoming freshman or someone who was a junior varsity player last year.”
In order to overcome its roadblocks, the team will need the help of players such as senior point guard Antonio Marshall, who was named an NAIA All-American Honorable Mention last year and leads the returning players in points per game (13.9) and minutes (32.3).
“He is a leader on the team, and we depend upon him for his production,” Hodge said of Marshall.
“We also need players like [junior guard] Ben Worner and [senior forward] Jake Hasselbring.”
Worner and Hasselbring were two key bench players last year who will bring experience to the young team. Worner averaged 21.1 minutes and 8.1 points per game, while Hasselbring totalled 6.3 points per game and 3.9 rebounds in 15.9 minutes per game.
Hasselbring expressed he is more than willing to take up the challenge. He said that, as a senior, this will be the first time he is in a leadership position.
Marshall is also ready for the upcoming season and hopes to contribute his skill sets to a successful season.
“My goals for the team are to win every home game, have a 20-win season, win the conference tournament championship, and make the [NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball] National Tournament,” Marshall said.
Hodge said that he is ready to push the team toward their goals.
“The theme of this year is to become better each day. It’s not that we don’t expect to compete, but the process of how to get to a certain place is heavier than it was last year,” Hodge said. “Everyday it’s a challenge to move it along at the appropriate pace so that we’re ready to compete by January and February, when the conference games start.”
The conference games will open up on Jan. 14 when the Tigers face the University of St. Francis (Ill.) on the road. Other important dates include the Daytona Mitsubishi Shootout the Thanksgiving Classic on Nov. 25 and 26.