Going into last season, men’s basketball head coach Rick Byrd never thought this year’s team would have the level of expectations they now have.
Last year’s 30-4 Atlantic Sun Championship title and a NCAA Tournament bid changed that.
The 2010-11 Bruins, with only three seniors, surprised everyone – even those close to the team – with their level of success.
Byrd acknowledged last year’s team had a purpose unlike any other team he’s coached at Belmont. This season, where the team is favored to win the Atlantic Sun by both the league coaches and media, the circumstances and level of expectations surrounding the team are different.
“We’re a senior- and junior- led team, but last year’s team made it very difficult to improve upon,” he said. “That’s the big challenge of this team: improving and not focusing on numbers.”
Byrd has seen energy and enthusiasm from his players in early practices, even if the “sloppy play” he said usually comes with the season’s first practices is also present. Still, Byrd said, he believes the mentality of both coaches and players will play a bigger role this season than last.
“It’s not a weakness. It’s just a challenge. Can they practice every day like they did last year? Can they show up at every game like they did last year?” he said.
One thing certain to stay this season is the level of depth used by the team, Byrd said. Belmont led the country last season in bench minutes played and bench points scored.
“I think we have to define success in Atlantic Sun play, whether we have a chip on our shoulder or just understand what type of purpose we did a year ago,” he said.
Guard:Senior Drew Hanlen will return to the Bruins, along with junior and unanimous all-conference selection Ian Clark and sophomore Blake Jenkins. Byrd said junior Adam Barnes and redshirt freshman Reece Chamberlain would likely play larger roles in this year’s rotation of guards.
Wing: This position is the spot undergoing the biggest transition for the Bruins. The graduation of Jon House and Jordan Campbell, who led the team in three-pointers last season, is forcing some role changes.
“We lost two very good ‘glue’ kind of players,” he said. “A strength of our team was on the defensive end. I think whoever replaces them cannot drop defensively.”
Byrd expects those positions to be collectively filled by sophomores J.J. Mann and Blake Jenkins, along with true freshman Spencer Turner.
Forward: The power forward and center positions will be led by seniors Mick Hedgepeth and Scott Saunders, both preseason all-conference selections. Byrd said they’d handle a lot of the available playing time in the post positions.
Juniors Brandon Baker and Trevor Noack both started games last year as forwards and will also play a roles this season.