New Arena, New Team: Longwood basketball set to tip off season

Published 10:41 pm Saturday, November 4, 2023

Five years ago, Longwood basketball entered a new era under head coach Griff Aldrich. The Lancers opened that season with a stunning win over Commonwealth rival Richmond, and the rest, as they say, has been history.

Each year, the team has knocked down an old milestone or set a new one. Back-to-back 20 win seasons. A Big South Championship. Three trips to a national postseason, including a trip to the NCAA Tournament. The most made three’s in a season in team history. Now, the stage is set for year six.

But it isn’t just any stage. The Lancers will break the seal on the stunning, elegant Joan Perry Brock Center in their home opener this coming Saturday, November 11. The new, 3,000-seat arena, which sits in the heart of Longwood’s campus, will debut as one of the finest basketball venues nationwide.

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“I’ve seen the plans for years now, but to actually walk into the building, it really is a special facility to play basketball in, to watch a basketball game in,” said Aldrich. “I think this is a crown jewel. There are very few colleges and universities at the mid-major level that can boast a facility like this, that’s truly a five-star facility where every detail has been thought about.”

 Instilling ‘Longwood Five’ pillars

DA Houston, Walyn Napper, Jesper Granlund and Michael Christmas all return after helping Longwood win 20 games for a second straight season, the first time the Lancers have won 20 games in back-to-back years in program history—regardless of level.

Even as each returner levels up his own game to take on a bigger role, they are also helping instill the “Longwood Five” pillars into the newcomers: Excellence, Grit, Humility, Gratitude, and Service.

“I think DA, Walyn, Jesper Granlund, Michael and Trey have done an incredible job trying to support all the new guys as they get up the learning curve,” Aldrich said. “You always hope that your returning guys will be able to shepherd along the newcomers. Historically, it’s usually been seven or eight returners bringing along three to four new guys. This year, it’s been a little different.”

The newcomers boast a wealth of talent, even as they learn and adapt to their new situation. For them, they now have recent history to live up to, given Longwood’s success under Aldrich.

“I think this is a really hungry group, this is a really eager group,” Aldrich said. “There’s a desire for them to make their mark on a new team with a lot of new faces to continue the legacy that’s being built here. Then you couple that with the new Joan Perry Brock Center, which is just a remarkable arena in which to play basketball. I think there’s a lot of responsibility to do your best and to continue the tradition that Longwood basketball has tried to build.”

 Longwood basketball newcomers

Among the newcomers, five players transferred in, with guards Johnathan Massie (McNeese State) and Saxby Sunderland (East Carolina) alongside big men Szymon Zapala (Utah State), Elijah Tucker (Xavier) and Johan Nziemi (Independence Community College). In addition, freshmen Emanuel Richards, Jaylen Benard and Leo Nordberg also bring a high pedigree to the team.

“From the newcomers, guys like Johnathan Massie will be a dynamic player,” Aldrich said at Big South Media Day. “He’ll really look to help us both scoring the ball as well as defensively. On the inside, Szymon Zapala and Elijah Tucker and Johan Nziemi all three will be really impactful.”

The team began to jell in the summer, which included a foreign tour to England and France that provided new opportunities for teammates to bond both on and off the court.

Opportunities to grow

Throughout the fall, that growth has continued on the court, and the Lancers will have a balanced 15-game non-conference slate to continue to grow. Longwood plays two teams picked to finish at or near the top of the A-10 in St. Bonaventure and Dayton in addition to a trip to Milwaukee.

At home, the Lancers will play a mix of regional opponents and also host a multi-team event: the Brock Challenge. From Friday, November 24 to Sunday, November 26, Longwood, Delaware State, Bethune-Cookman and Lamar will play each other, with each team playing three games in three days.

The growth will be put to the test once Big South play rolls around in January. The Lancers, picked to finish fifth in the Big South, will take on a 16-game conference slate before the 2024 Hercules Tires Big South Conference Tournament March 6-10.

Single game tickets are on sale and are available at