As the William Jewell College men’s basketball team enters the 2017-2018 season, coaches and players’ ambitions are high.
“Our hope is to be competitive for a conference title this year,” said Head Coach Larry Holley.
He certainly has the pedigree to set that goal. A graduate of Jewell’s class of 1967, Holley is entering his 39th season with the Cardinals and 47th year as a coach. Over the span of his career, he has received 14 Coach of the Year awards and has been inducted into five Halls of Fame. His 886 career wins currently ranks him as the number one coach among all Missouri four-year colleges. The very court on which the team plays is named after him.
Holley is under no illusions as to the trials that lie ahead. Last season, the team ended with a record of 5-13. The Great Lakes Valley Conference (GLVC) preseason polls slate the team in fifth place in the West Conference.
“Well, we have struggled the last couple of years, and we’ll have our challenges this season,” Holley said.
One of those challenges is an apparent imbalance in the players’ positions. At the moment, the team fields one center, one power forward, and 12 guards. While this will likely shape the team’s defensive strategy, it will almost certainly throw opponents off balance.
“We are going to have times where our lineup will be five guards on the floor, and while that may be a challenge for us defensively, I think that’ll be a challenge for the teams we’re going to be playing with their defense, to try and match up with five guards on the floor,” said Holley. “I think if we stay healthy, and play to our potential, we’ll be in a position to be successful in every game we play.”
Easton Koch, a senior business administration major, played in all 26 games last season and echoes Holley’s optimism. A guard himself, he places more emphasis on the cohesion of the team overall than on any one player’s purported position.
“This season, I am getting to play with a lot of other players that play similarly to me, in terms of passing, cutting and sharing the ball really well,” said Koch.
There are seven returning players, and the rest of the team is new. Eysan Wiley, a first-year business administration major, started all four years of his high school career and shot an average of 85 percent from the free throw line. Despite a successful run in high school, he has noticed there are some different elements at the college level.
“Here at this level, people are a lot bigger, and a lot faster. You’ve got to adjust to that, in practice,” Wiley said.
Pharroh Gordon, a first-year psychological science major and native of Manchester, England, transferred to Jewell from The College of Saint Rose in New York. He was named to the Northeast 10 Commissioner’s Honor Roll. In coming to Jewell, he wasn’t quite sure what to expect but is happy to have made the transition.
“I used to like not really like basketball last year but now I’m enjoying myself again. It’s easy to get better here. The gym’s always open, we have an actual strength and conditioning program, and I’ve met a lot of great people,” Gordon said.
A winning season is unlikely based on preseason polls. The team is working in an effort to beat those odds. Of the 13 losses, eight were within 10 points.
Emil Ostafiiciuc, a senior economics major from Moldova, has played all four years on the team.
“We do have a lot of strong players, and a lot of skills we bring to the table. Most importantly, though we have a lot of players with big hearts who are ready to go the extra mile to achieve the goal. In my opinion, that is what is most valuable,” Ostafiiciuc said.