Along with a new season, there will also be many new faces on the Northern Kentucky University men’s basketball team, who will be trying to improve on last year’s 21-9 record.
The Norse have only four returning players, but they are confident they can sustain another successful year. Head coach Dave Bezold is confident that they can go even further.
“This team is intriguing because they’re not as talented as the team was last year, but the coach-ability is really high with these guys,” Bezold said. “We have a lot of new players that are entering the college ranks for the first time, so they’re eager to learn new things they didn’t know before about the game of basketball. That will help us achieve success this season.”
This season will be the first time a majority of the new players will play together. Bezold said the most important thing the players have to do is learn how to play as a team.
“Chemistry is the most vital aspect in any sport,” Bezold said. “Without team chemistry, the season can’t be successful. Most of our guys are seeing each other play for the first time, so they’re starting fresh on learning each other’s game type.”
The only returning starter is senior guard Tony Rack. Rack started 25 games and averaged 5.5 points per game. Rack acknowledges that it will not be easy to get the new players acclimated into the team’s system, but he is convinced it can be done and the results will show.
“We have a difficult offense to jump into, and it’ll be hard for these new guys to get used to it,” Rack said. “It takes time, and we’re not even close to where we need to be at yet, but we’ll get there. Once the season gets going, everyone will start to catch on and start to play well together.”
Being a veteran player comes with responsibility, according to Bezold. Rack feels like he is ready to accept the responsibility of being a team leader this year and to make sure that every player stays focused and works together. In order to do that though, Rack says it’s best to show it, not just say it.
“I need to lead by example,” Rack said. “I’ve got to do all the little things to help this team succeed. I’m not going to be the guy that scores 20 points every day, but I’ve got to make sure I do all the little things for this team and never take a day off.”
One of the new players on the team is senior center DeAndre Nealy. Nealy, a transfer from Kent State, feels like the preseason has gone well for the new players. However, Nealy feels like the team can improve.
“We have to play tough defense as a team, and the only way we can do that is by communicating to each other,” Nealy said. “The tough defensive team is the new identity we have to establish for ourselves. Once we do that, we’ll be good.”
According to Bezold, the greatest way to establish that team identity is by playing other teams. NKU played three exhibition games against Division I teams (Marshall, West Virginia, and Cincinnati). Those games are crucial to Bezold in establishing the team’s tough defense mentality.
“When we get to play another team, we’ll be able to define our strengths and see what our weaknesses are,” Bezold said. “When they go up against an unknown player, it really helps them get their feel on where they’re at, and where they need to be defensively.”
So far, Bezold feels the team’s positivity is bright and the possibilities for this season are endless.
“The work ethic is high with this team,” Bezold said. “They’re good basketball players, and they’ve really got a good feel of what we’re trying to do here. We’re definitely excited about them.”
The Norse will play at home against UC-Clermont on Nov. 12 to begin the regular season.