Cardinal Rule Editor
November is just around the corner, meaning that we are nearing another year of college basketball.
First year head coach Phil Cunningham has been extremely busy changing the culture at a program that has spent the past 30 years behind Troy basketball legend Don Maestri.
In Maestri’s final season, the Trojans stumbled to a 12-21 (6-14) record, finishing near the bottom of the Sun Belt in several key categories, particularly field goal percentage and team defense.
Cunningham has had the advantage of an NCAA rule change that altered the men’s basketball calendar, allowing him to begin preparing the team earlier than in years past.
He also took advantage of the opportunity to take his team on a trip to Spain, allowed by the NCAA once every four years, where the team was able to get 10 extra days of practice while finishing 5-0 against the competition.
“It was really a great opportunity to for us to get to know each other,” Cunningham said. “But also to get a jump start to put in our offense and defense the way we would like to play. It made it so that when practice started three weeks ago we were ready to go.”
Troy is bringing back seven players from last season, three of which were starters.
One of the biggest challenges for this year’s squad will be finding a way to replace the production of the two departures from the starting lineup.
Emil Jones and Ray Chambers accounted for 19.6 of the teams 62 points scored per game, and were also the leading rebounders on the team.
Cunningham believes that his team can make up for the tangible production and is more concerned with another aspect lacking with their departure.
“I wasn’t around much for last year’s team,” Cun
ningham said. “But after getting to meet them and talka little last year I know that those guys are very vocal. The one thing that stands out about our team right now is that there are not a whole bunch of vocal leaders. It isn’t their style.”
However, that doesn’t mean that his team doesn’t work.
“They lead by example with a great work ethic and they love the gym, but as coaches we would like to see them a little more verbal. When we start playing games we have to step up and do that,” Cunningham said.
Senior guard Hunter Williams, the second leading scorer on last year’s squad, has an assist-to-turnover ratio third best in the Sun Belt last year.
Williams’s ability to orchestrate the offense as it adapts to Cunningham’s system will be key as the year progresses, and one that may determine how dangerous this team can be.
Senior Antoine Myers will be assisting Williams in the backcourt, together making one of the more reliable areas of the team.
Jeff Mullahey and Tevin Calhoun are expected to get a lot of work at the forward position, with Westley Hinton anchoring at center.
Hinton led the team in scoring during its trip to Spain and is expected to be a key offensive contributor. He returned to practice on Wednesday after missing time with a broken hand.
Cunningham doesn’t plan on running much motion offense, which relies heavily on ball movement and floor spacing to obtain looks at the basket rather than set plays.
“We want to run any chance we get on a missed shot,” Cunningham said. “It’s easier to score on a defense in transition when they aren’t set. When they get set we want to move the ball to an area that we as a coaching staff want to get it. If we can find a mismatch or a guy who does some things better that others we want it in his hands.”
Troy is a team that will have the talent to score on most teams, especially within the Sun Belt.
The greater challenge will be to retool an undersized defense near the bottom of most statistical categories last year, including last in points allowed per possession with 1.06.
“We’ve tried to instill a defensive mentality,” Cunningham said. “It’s tough with this team. Physically we aren’t a big team, and that’s really where we’re behind.”
The team has some length, which will help, but will mostly have to rely on its quickness and trapping to make up for the lack of physicality.
Cunningham also mentioned that recent rule changes by the NCAA intended to reduce some of the physical play will be advantageous to his team.
“We want to be competitive night-in and night-out,” Cunningham said. “We want to set a tone on how hard we play, how competitive we will be on every possession. I think if some things happen and we can stay healthy we have a chance to be right in the middle of things in conference.”
With just over two weeks remaining before the Trojans open the season against the Ole Miss Rebels on Nov. 8 the halls of Trojan Arena are buzzing with anticipation for a new year and a new team.
“It’s exciting,” Cunningham said. “All the work we did in the off season, the recruiting and getting the team ready, it’s all about to come to fruition when they toss that ball up that first time.”