The SDSU men’s basketball team may have started the season slowly, but thanks to a 13-game block of wins stopped only by this weekend’s loss to the University of Northern Colorado, the Jacks find themselves atop the North Central Conference and in a winning mindset.
Until this weekend, the team’s only losses had come in two of the season’s first three games. Overall, the Jacks boast a 14-3 record with a 7-1 NCC tally.
Scott Nagy, head men’s basketball coach, says the recent success is a result of a real evolution of the players.
“It’s a different team than we had at the beginning of the year,” he says.
Some of the most visible difference has come in the play of freshman forward Matt Jones. As a young player, Jones began the season without the level of confidence visible in many veteran players. However, Nagy points out, “As we got deeper into the season, he really started playing better.”
Going into this weekend’s play, Jones’ improvements had taken him to the team’s top spot for both scoring and rebounding in conference games.
On the bench, Nagy points out the strength of junior Mike Peek. New to the bench, it took some effort for the 6’2″ guard to get into the rhythm of play with SDSU. Peek now fits well into the strong group of reserves that give the Jacks the depth that helps win games.
“Mike has gotten way better than the beginning of the year,” says Nagy. “He’s…figured out our system and has really been playing well.”
Along with the visible changes in level of play have come changes in attitude that has become the key to keeping the team strong. The team more fully understands their strengths and weaknesses, and players are taking the responsibility for improving into their own hands.
After the first few games, Nagy began to see this greater sense of responsibility, especially in his veterans.
“The older kids really started taking ownership of the team,” he says. “It wasn’t necessarily my team anymore. It was their team, and they decided to provide a lot better leadership.”
That is the leadership that was needed to start the team on its winning path through the season and its initial domination of its conference opponents. It helped to show the players the benefit of their personal ownership of and stake in the team.
The personal investment in the team can also be seen in the way players have stepped up to fill the absence left by star player Austin Hansen, who is out with an injury. Offensive output has remained consistent, even without Hansen’s average 14 points per game. Hansen still is not up to full strength but is very close, according to Nagy.
Just as important as recognizing their strengths, however, is admitting the team’s failings. This is something else that Nagy has seen done well in recent weeks. “The team recognizes when we’re not playing good even if we’re winning games,” says Nagy. “I point it out, but they recognize it and they haven’t fought me on it.”
Overall, Nagy sees success as having its own trials but points out that SDSU has dealt with these trials well. He says, “A lot of times, when you have a lot of success like we have lately, it can tend to ruin a team. They can tend to start thinking they’re better than they are, and I don’t think that’s happened with our team.”