‘We’ll show what we’re capable of’: Lancers focus on Big South
Published 12:46 pm Wednesday, October 18, 2023
Despite back-to-back 20-win seasons, it seems some coaches and media members still need to be convinced the Longwood Lancers are contenders. The men’s basketball team placed fifth in the Big South Conference preseason poll released this week, finishing just two points behind fourth place Gardner-Webb.
Last season, the Lancers finished second in the Big South, while putting together 46 total wins over the past two years. That ranks as the second-most for a two-year period in school history. But as journalists, players and coaches gathered for the Big South Conference media day on Tuesday, the focus shifted from a preseason poll to a look at how Longwood tackles two challenges this season. First, there’s the question of who will fill the void, as the Lancers lost their two top scorers. Second, in a move similar to the one Deon Sanders made with the University of Colorado football team, the majority of this year’s Longwood squad are transfers. Ten players, more than two thirds of the squad, came in this year through the transfer portal.
Speaking at media day, Aldrich said it’s not just about getting the new team members to play hard.
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“One of the biggest challenges right now is just getting the new guys to understand our culture, how hard we play and how hard we need to play,” Aldrich said. “We have a saying, the highest form of competition is execution. Once you get them to play hard, then it’s not just running around like a chicken with your head cut off, you actually have to execute our gameplan.”
That’s been the challenge with bringing so many new players in, Aldrich said.
“It’s been a multi-faceted attack where we’re trying to teach them the core pieces of how we play, but then also the X and Os,” he added. “It feels like you get one thing right one day and another day it’s off.”
‘Walyn is critical’
One returning player Aldrich singled out is point guard Walyn Napper. Himself a transfer from Southern Mississippi, Napper averaged 9.4 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game during last season. Aldrich said the first year in his system can be challenging for point guards. Now that Napper has had a full year in it, Aldrich will be expecting more from the senior.
“It’s really hard for point guards in our system that first year,(as) so much is being thrown at them,” Aldrich said. “I have such high expectations for our point guards and leaders with all the decisions they have to make. So year two, you’re not worried about the drills, not worried about trying to learn different things. You already know what you’re supposed to do.”
And while it’s about execution, Aldrich said, the position involves some leadership too. That’s a position he’s seen Napper grow into.
“He’s done an incredible job,” Aldrich said. “The amount that young man has grown in 12 to 15 months is remarkable and fun to watch. And I give him all the credit. He has really poured himself into trying to do better every day.”
As he got acclimated last season, Napper played in all 32 games, while only starting 15. Now that he’s had time in the system, you can expect the number of starts to go way up, Aldrich added.
Napper told reporters he accepts the leadership role, as one of a handful of returners.
“It’s not really pressure to me,” Napper said. “I have been in this situation before, as a senior in high school. My old teammate Malcolm and I were the only two returners on varsity and had a whole group of JV players that I had to be there for.”
Napper said he’s trying to be more of a vocal leader. He and Aldrich talk after practice, he said, about not just being a ‘lead by example’ type but challenging others to hold the standard up.
And while polls aren’t the focal point for this team, Napper said they can be a motivational tool.
“I don’t really get caught up in preseason polls because it’s opinion based,” Napper said. “Although we’re picked fifth, it should motivate us to come out and work hard every day. By the end of the year, we’ll show everybody what we’re capable of.”
Lancers look ahead
Longwood opens the season on the road Nov. 6 against St. Bonaventure. Then they come home on Saturday, Nov. 11 for a 2:30 p.m. game against St. Mary’s College, the first competition held in the new Joan Perry Brock Center.
School officials say single game tickets go on sale to the public on Thursday, Oct. 26.