Adding six freshmen to the roster, the Belmont men’s basketball team looks to have a loaded future ahead.
Over the offseason, the Bruins brought in one of its largest recruiting classes in program history for the 2022-23 season.
6’4 Guard Kyler Vanderjagt
Kyler Vanderjagt joins the Bruins from Grand Rapids, Michigan.
As a senior at Northview High School, he averaged 24.1 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, leading his team to the state semifinals.
For Vanderjagt, the biggest transition from high school to college involves changing his perspective.
“The main difference has been understanding the game in a sense of offense and defense, obviously defense is a huge emphasis at this level,” Vanderjagt says. “It’s mostly just understanding the purpose of why we do the things we do. I’m taking everyday step by step and just learning.”
Admiring the brotherhood within Belmont basketball, Vanderjagt knows every chance to get better this season is just another day at the office.
He has big goals for his rookie year with the Bruins.
“Being in a new conference this year, I think we’ve got the ability to show we can play against and handle everybody,” Vanderjagt said. “I think collectively as a group we want to win a lot of games this year and ultimately win the conference, get to the championship and win games from there.”
6’2 Guard Ja’Kobi Gillespie
A Tennessee native, Ja’Kobi Gillespie played at Greeneville High School.
On the basketball court, he averaged 27.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 3.0 steals during his senior season and led Greeneville to state titles during his sophomore and senior campaigns.
Starring as a wide receiver on the football field, Gillespie received offers from Virginia Tech and Vanderbilt for football before ultimately choosing to commit to Belmont for basketball.
Despite his athleticism, he still notices the change in intensity from high school to college as he can count on his older teammates to help ease the transition.
“The older guys are helping me out. The defensive emphasis is really the main thing,” Gillespie said. “I just want to get to know my teammates and do whatever I can to help the team, whether it’s practice or in the games.”
Gillespie's focus revolves around his goal of being the best player he can possibly be while suiting up for the Bruins, he said.
6’7 Forward Cade Tyson
Cade Tyson is the only freshman forward on the squad.
Playing at Carmel Christian High School in Monroe, North Carolina, he averaged 24.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.9 steals per game.
His senior season concluded as he led Carmel Christian to a NCISAA 4A state championship, earning 2022 North Carolina Mr. Basketball.
Tyson feels that he’s becoming acclimated to the tempo on the court.
“The speed of the game is definitely picking up a little bit, so you've got to make decisions a lot quicker,” said Tyson.
Tyson has his own personal goals such as making the starting lineup or playing in the NCAA tournament, but he still maintains a team first mindset.
“I just want to do whatever I can for the team,” said Tyson. “With team goals first and foremost, I want to make a name for myself but also play for the name on the jersey.”
6’5 Guard Keith Robbins
Keith Robbins is the tallest of the new Bruin guards.
A Georgia native, he starred at John Milledge Academy and averaged 19.8 points as a senior leading his team to the state championship game.
The jump from high school to college has been an eye opener for Robbins.
“It’s definitely a big change in pace, there’s a lot more guys with deep skill sets,” Robbins said. “So far it's been a pretty big adjustment.”
With that, Robbins is relying on his other freshman teammates to help him ease into college basketball.
“We hang out every day, throughout the week and on the weekends, so it helps us out on the court,” Robbins said.
In his debut season, Robbins is focused on improvement but still has his eyes set on big things for the team.
“We’ve got goals here, whether it's winning the regular season championship or the MVC postseason championship, but each day I just want to get better.”
6’4 Guard Jake Dykstra
Jake Dykstra is one of two freshman walk-ons.
Dykstra, a true local, averaged 13.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game as a senior at nearby Christ Presbyterian Academy in Nashville.
He received various offers from Division II and Division III schools but chose to be a walk-on at Belmont as most of CPA’s coaching staff was involved with Belmont basketball.
Like most newcomers, Dykstra instantly noticed the change of speed and physicality, but the adjustment hasn’t been as difficult as imagined.
“I think it’s treating me good. I’m doing a good job adjusting to the speed and the physicality of college basketball compared to high school,” Dykstra said.
Dykstra knows his opportunities to see the court might be limited, so he will try to improve through practice this season.
“Most of this year, it’s just helping the team out in whatever way I can. Whether it’s practice, working out, or making the older guys better, it’s just doing whatever I can to help them,” Dykstra said. “Maybe I make a couple tournaments, get some good minutes in game, make some shots, and play some good defense.”
6’2 Guard Aidan Braccia
Aidan Braccia is another walk-on for the Bruins.
Braccia enters as the winningest player in his high school’s history where he averaged 19.0 points, 2.3 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game as a senior for Sacred Heart Preparatory.
Competing against more mature players has been the hardest adjustment, but Braccia has a plan to make his transition smoother.
“For myself, it’s just getting used to playing against bigger and stronger guys,” said Braccia. “It’s also making myself bigger and stronger. We have a great weight program here, so I’m going to take advantage of that.”
Braccia’s goals for this upcoming season are to make himself useful to the team any way he can.
“The goal right now is to just keep getting better. Keep working. Keep integrating myself into the team in the ways that I think are most useful this year,” said Braccia. “I’m hoping to see the court and hoping to work towards that opportunity.”
This article was written by Ty Wellemeyer. Contributory reporting by Landen Secrest.