Wednesday, November 07, 2007

McKillop, Wildcats embrace the bull's-eye

by Patrick McArdle, Co-Sports Editor of The Davidsonian (this article appears in the 11/7/07 issue of The Davidsonian as part of its 2007-2008 basketball preview)

Soon students and fans will walk down the red brick, across the road towards Belk Arena for the beginning of the much anticipated 2007-2008 Men's Basketball season. Last year's unparalleled success of 29 wins and a Southern Conference Championship took the campus and nation by surprise.

This year, however, no one underestimates Davidson, especially the national press. The most recent national article to laud the team appeared in "USA Today," emphasizing that top tier basketball and first-rate academics coexist at Davidson.

"I'm absolutely thrilled with the article and how it represented what we truly are, not just as a program but as a school as well," Coach Bob McKillop said. "Not many times can we have that story told."

Positive press, however, is sometimes a double-edged sword. McKillop and his staff have been negotiating the delicate dance of public relations throughout the offseason.

"You can't run from the media, but you can't stick your chest out because of it," McKillop said. "You have to understand why it's here. It's here not because of anything we've accomplished at this point, but instead it's about what has been in the past. And it's not just about what this team and what this coach has accomplished in the past, but it's what this program has done in the past."

While the team needs to prove itself again, the potential exists for another historic season. Unlike last year, one of the team's greatest strengths is experience, with all five starters from last year's team returning to the floor for the Wildcats.

Anchoring the frontcourt in his final campaign will be Thomas Sander '08. A versatile forward, Sander is versed in hard-nosed defense, rebounding, transition scoring and three-point shooting. Boris Meno '08 joins in the frontcourt, adding defensive versatility, rebounding excellence and senior leadership to the mix.

Joining them is a backcourt that ranks among the country's best. All-SoCon point guard Jason Richards '08 will again start for the 'Cats, utilizing leadership and the exquisite court vision that allowed him to tally the second-most assists in the nation last year. Richards has a great target in Stephen Curry '10, the phenomenal shooting guard who last year won SoCon Freshman of the Year and SoCon Tournament MVP. Curry led the SoCon in scoring with 21.5 points per game, ranking ninth in the nation last year. The final piece of the starting backcourt is Max Paulhus Gosselin '09, a defensive specialist who led last year's club with a .500 field goal percentage.

But five players are not enough to win against the grueling schedule. Luckily, the bench is also full of experience and talent. The backcourt bench runs deep, consisting of Will Archambault '10, Bryant Barr '10, Can Civi '09, Brendan McKillop '11 and Aaron Bond '11. The frontcourt is fortified by Steve Rossiter '09, Andrew Lovedale '09, Dan Nelms '10 and Ben Allison '11.

"When you go to the bench, when you go to your full rotation, there cannot be a dramatic dropoff in terms of the implementation and execution of the system," McKillop said. "Maybe we've had that happen in the past, but we feel extremely confident in the current rotation because of their experience in meeting that challenge."

Being consistent in implementing the game plan will be the team's constant challenge during the upcoming season.

"It's going to take 40 minutes," McKillop said. "We sometimes get amnesia during the course of a game against opponents who outmatch us in every way. We stick to a game plan and we stay within a system and we have success. But the consistency of sticking to the game plan and staying within the system has to have the duration of 40 minutes. The elusive quality of greatness is consistency."

On the offensive side of the ball, the plan is simple: attack. "All five players need to be in the attack mode. You can expect us to run on makes and misses. You can expect us to take full advantage of every out of bounds opportunity that presents itself," McKillop said.

One word also effectively summarizes the defensive philosophy: disrupt. "We love to break rhythm. Breaking rhythm causes a disruption of their flow, creates dry spells for your opponent and maybe allows you to go on a run that's not just a result of your attacking offence but is a result of your rhythm breaking defense."

The team looks to start strong early against Emory before its showdown with top ranked UNC. As McKillop emphasized at Night with the Cats, embracing the bull's-eye starts with the fans.

"Games can be decided by a few points. The crowd gives you that needed boost of adrenaline. The crowd perhaps puts the opponent maybe at a disadvantage confidence wise. The crowd perhaps influences the way our guys use their energy. And because of the crowd, we may be able to steal a basket or two or three and in many games that's the difference in the outcome."

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