Belmont University coaches Casey Alexander and Bart Brooks discussed the future of Belmont’s basketball programs Thursday.
Taking part in the semi-casual event were university president Greg Jones, his wife the Rev. Susan Pendelton Jones, Belmont women’s athletics trailblazer Betty Wiseman and athletic director Scott Corley.
Both coaches weighed in on a range of topics including the transfer portal, recruitment, the Missouri Valley Conference switch, summer practices, youth camps and the Belmont community.
For Brooks, who is coming off a successful NCAA tournament season, recruitment is the main priority.
“I think this year, on our side, we’re more involved in transfer recruiting than we’ve been in the past and that can be a good thing, if it’s the right fit,” Brooks said. “I think there’s 1200 kids in the transfer portal on the women’s side alone in Division I and we’ve reached out to five of them.”
Alexander’s team sits in a similar boat with graduating seniors like Nick Muszynski, Luke Smith and Grayson Murphy as well as the departure of key players Will Richard and JaCobi Wood in the transfer portal.
“In addition to the transfer scenario that we’re all dealing with, it’s also a really important time for us,” Alexander said. “The spring kind of starts a new cycle for a new recruiting class.”
The men’s team will welcome a new class of talent this summer, starting with guards Ja’Kobi Gillespie, Keith Robbins and Kyler Vanderjagt and forward Cade Tyson.
With the addition of transfer students Keishawn Davidson from Tennessee Tech University and Drew Friberg from Princeton University, the team is preparing for the more competitive MVC.
“On the men’s side of things, there are six different schools in the Missouri Valley who have played in the Sweet 16 since 2000,” Alexander said. “These schools are built in such a way where there’s a real investment made for their men’s and women’s basketball programs to do well, and so that’s a challenge for us.”
On the women’s side, Brooks stressed how crucial the conference switch was for both programs — recognition will increase in the Bruins’ favor.
“It’s a great opportunity, you know, my first year here we were 31-4 going into the championship game of the Ohio Valley Conference tournament and had we lost that game, we would not have made the NCAA tournament,” he said. “Now, being in the Missouri Valley Conference, they’ve been a multiple NCAA tournament bid league for a lot of years in a row on the women’s side, and I know the same is true for the guys’ side.”
Coming off a historic season in which Belmont’s No. 12 ranked women’s team outlasted the No. 5 seeded University of Oregon in double overtime of the NCAA tournament’s first round, Brooks believes the MVC will allow the team to have even more national opportunities for exposure.
“I think being in the NCAA tournament this year, playing on national TV was an unbelievable thing for our program, and the Missouri Valley will enhance that greatly,” he said.
Both coaches also spoke about the supportive community at Belmont.
“It’s the reason why Belmont has had the great success that it’s had all across the board,” Alexander said. “With our growth and our success and everything else, it’s the quality of the people, the community that we’re in, the belief in each other and the desire for everybody to have success. That is not the case at a lot of places.”
“This place is impeccable. It’s beautiful. It’s gorgeous,” Brooks echoed. “The buildings, the little stuff on the floors, I don’t know, what, is it diamonds or golds? It’s beautiful, but it doesn’t come close to the people that are here.”
As summer draws nearer, both Alexander and Brooks look forward to their so-called “offseason.”
“It’s a good time when school is over and, you know, and we don’t have players on campus, that’s what we would consider our offseason, those three or four weeks,” Alexander said.
But once June rolls around, it’s back to work.
“June’s exhausting,” Brooks said. “It might be worse than the middle of November. To get our kids’ camp and everyone here and registered. Man, it is a busy busy month, but it’s a great month because there is so much team stuff that can happen. The foundation of the next season, the first time that incoming freshmen are together with this group of returners.”
“It’s like I tell our players, it’s a combination of bootcamp and a slumber party combined,” he said.
PHOTO: Luncheon attendees hear from Bart Brooks and Casey Alexander. AJ Wuest/Belmont Vision
This article was written by A.J. Wuest.