The men’s basketball team will experience something it has not seen for a few years: a returning nucleus of players from the previous season.
For the past several years, the Wildcats have brought in nearly all-new rosters from one season to the next. This year, however, ACU is returning seven players from last season including starting seniors Harrison Hawkins, LaDarrien Williams and junior Parker Wentz.
After an entire offseason of preparation and a month of practices, the Wildcats are ready to see how the team stacks up against its competition.
“We are much further along than we were last year, and I really like the way this group is working so far,” said Joe Golding, head coach. “We’re excited to compete and to get things started to see where we are against other opponents.”
In the preseason polls, ACU was projected to finish toward the bottom of the conference, with teams such as Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston and Northwestern State to finish in the top three. But even as newer members to the Southland Conference, the Wildcats will look to build off their first year in conference in which the Wildcats finished with an 11-20 overall record and a 2-12 conference record.
Hawkins, Williams and Wentz will lead the backcourt this season. Each player has the ability to carry a good portion of the offensive load. Before injuries and academic ineligibility ended Hawkins’s and Williams’s season last year, they led ACU in scoring with 12.3 points per game each. Once they went down, Wentz took over and finished the year averaging a team high 13.9 points per game and shot 49 percent from the field, 44 percent from the three-point line and 87 percent from the charity strike.
In the post positions, junior Austin Cooke and sophomore Riley Payne return. Cooke started every game for the Wildcats last year, and Payne played in all 31 games and started in 20. Together, they averaged 11.3 points per game and 8.2 boards per contest. Senior big man Alexsander Milosavljevic from Svilajna, Serbia, will return after playing in just 19 games due to nagging injuries.
“Anyone who followed us last year knows that we really struggled with injuries and depth,” Golding said. “With these new freshmen and junior college transfers, it gives us depth and the ability to have a solid team that can compete on a nightly basis.”
Transfers David Hanson, Jalen Little and Duran Porter will all be expected to play meaningful minutes with the Wildcats this season. Also, four freshmen will look to be called upon as Golding and the coaching staff expect to go 10-men deep this season.
The Wildcats will play five of the team’s first eight games at home in Moody Coliseum before going on a five-game road trip to finish non-conference play. The team will play Loyola University Chicago in Chicago, Boise State in Boise, Idaho, and Grand Canyon University in Phoenix before returning home for the New Year.
Some of the more notable games of the season include Duquesne University and Stephen F. Austin in Abilene. The SFA game will be the first-ever nationally broadcast game to originate from Moody Coliseum, as CBS Sports will air the game. The Wildcats will also face the University of Houston Cougars in South Texas Dec. 6.
Though a conference championship may be out of reach for ACU at the moment, the Wildcats are heading in the right direction. With returning starters, added depth and barring the injury bug, expect the Wildcats to stay competitive this season.