Men's Basketball: Panthers look to continue run of success for 2017-18

Men's Basketball: Panthers look to continue run of success for 2017-18

 

The LaGrange College men's basketball team looks to build on the success of the past four seasons by looking to their experience, strong senior leadership, and the foundation built by former players.

The 2017-18 Panthers come into the season as winners of three of the last four USA South Conference Tournament Championships. During this span, they have won 73 games, the most of any four-year stretch in the program's NCAA Division III era. The Panthers have made the NCAA Division III tournament four straight years, one of only seven teams nationally to do so.  Last season, the team also earned the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Team Excellence Academic award for the second straight season, one of only two teams in the USA South Conference selected for this award.

Seniors Alex Bonner, Michael McCauley, Duncan Parker, Miles Rice, and Nate Rosetti look to lead the Panthers to another USA South Conference title and a fifth straight trip to the NCAA tournament.

"The quality of these young men is unprecedented in our program.  To have five young men who are mature, committed, excellent basketball players, and all leaders is a coach's dream," said Coach Kendal Wallace when asked about the senior class. "On top of that, all of these men know that in order for us to have success, they must drop any type of ego and work together with the other great players on our team."

Bonner is coming off of a very successful junior season, having already established himself as a top player in the USA South. He was named the Most Valuable Player at last season's USA South Conference Tournament. In the tournament, Bonner averaged 15.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 1.3 steals per game, while shooting a sizzling 59 percent from the field. Bonner beat William Peace University in the first round with his second game winning basket of the season. He finished off second-seeded Methodist University in the championship game with 17 points and seven rebounds. Bonner is poised to join the elite 1,000 Point Club. He needs 101 points to reach the career milestone.

Parker looks to solidify himself as a formable force down low in the paint. He seeks to improve on a solid junior season, when he started eight games and averaged 11.6 minutes per game in 20 appearances. Parker had a career high 13 rebounds against Susquehanna University in the Hoop MIA Shootout, in only 23 minutes of play. He had eight points and three blocks against Berry College in only 16 minutes of play. Parker was named one of the team's four NABC Honors Court selections last season.

Rosetti played in 17 games last season, averaging 1.5 points and 1.6 rebounds per game. He looks to improve on those numbers for the 2016-17 season. Rosetti's leadership on and off the court has created a foundation that will continue to steer this year's Panther team, along with his work ethic and mental toughness. He was also named an NABC Honors Court selection last season.

McCauley enters his final season with the Panthers as one of the hardest workers in the USA South conference. He comes off a junior season where he played in all 29 games, with seven starts. McCauley averaged 13.9 minutes per game, the seventh most on the team. He was a key part of the second unit off the bench, averaging 4.1 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. McCauley's driven attitude will be a motivating force on this year's squad.  He was the recipient of the team's USA South Conference Sportsmanship Award last season.

Rice is looking to make an impact on this year's squad. After medically red-shirting last season with shoulder surgery, he plans to be a major impact contributing toughness, work ethic, and leadership. Rice's rebounding and finishing at the rim will be great assets to this seasons' squad.

The junior class has an abundance of experienced talent. Elijah Adedoyin, Jamison McCray, and Travis Thompson were all impact players during last year's championship run. Jack McCormack, Stephen Wagner, and Cody Smith will be key role players this year and  look to cement themselves as productive contributors.  Jalen McCallum is a transfer from Eastern Connecticut State University and will use his length and athleticism to contribute to this year's team.  After taking a year off from school, McCallum has improved in all facets of the game, as well as life, and has matured into a very good basketball player.

Adedoyin started 21 games for the Panthers last season, averaging 11.5 points per game. McCray averaged 16.8 minutes per game in all 29 games, scoring 7.7 points per game. Thompson started 14 of 29 games played, averaging 8.1 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. McCormack saw action in nine games last year, and looks to improve on it this year. Wagner is coming off a season in which he did not play due to injury and is looking to pick up where he left off after hitting a 3-pointer in last year's season opener. Smith seeks to improve on his skills and contribute down low, after missing last year due to injury.

The sophomore class consists of Adrian King and Henry Ruff. King and Ruff look to be leaders on the Varsity Reserve Squad this year. King will work to improve his play in the middle, looking to score more consistently and continue blocking shots. He led the Varsity Reserve program in blocks last season with 18. Ruff was third in steals on the Varsity Reserve squad last season, and will be counted on defensively.

The freshmen class consists of 12 newcomers and the majority will begin their seasons with the Varsity Reserve program. The program allows for freshmen to acclimate themselves to the rigors of college basketball, both on the court and in the classroom. The Varsity Reserve team plays a tough 15-game schedule of their own, against some of the area's best junior colleges and Division III varsity reserve teams. 

"These freshmen have the potential to do amazing things on and off the court," said Wallace. "Their work ethic and chemistry has already given me high hopes about the future and direction of our program."

As for the varsity, this season's schedule has the Panthers poised for a tough road ahead. 

"I've always had the philosophy that you have to play the best to be the best," Wallace began.  "The plan was to make our regular season schedule rigorous so that we would be prepared if we are fortunate enough to make the NCAA tournament for a fifth straight season.  With the size of our facility, we do not have the opportunity to host an NCAA tournament game, so if we are to make it, we will be on the road again, which is tough for any team."

The Panthers begin the road to March Madness on Nov. 17 at Penn State-Altoona against Wallace's former assistant and close friend David McGreal.  The game is the inaugural one in the school's new Adler Arena on campus.  The second night will be against either Juniata or Mount Aloysius.

The Panthers return home for games against Emory and Oglethorpe, two Division III powerhouses in Georgia. The first USA South conference game is at Covenant on Nov. 30, followed by an exhibition game versus NCAA Division II member Columbus State on Dec. 9.  LC finishes its pre-Christmas hoops with conference games against Berea College and Maryville College, along with a non-counting conference game against new member Brevard College.

This year's December trip will be to Nashville, Tennessee, to play in the Music City Classic. The first game is against perennial powerhouse Keene State College, who played in the Elite 8 of the Division III NCAA Tournament last season. The Panthers face Fairleigh Dickinson University in the second game.  The Panthers then have 15 conference games remaining on the schedule. Last season, first and last place were separated by only two games, with the regular season champion not decided until the last day of conference play before the tournament. 

The road to a fifth straight NCAA Tournament appearance will be tough, but this year's team is poised for what could be a memorable run.