The men’s basketball team is ready to get things started in year two of the Jim Fox era. The biggest difference in head coach Fox’s second season? Postseason eligibility.
Last season the Mountaineers faced a one-year postseason ban due to a failure to meet academic requirements under previous head coach Jason Caple.
While none of the players claim that last seasons ban affected their effort, it was hard to hide their excitement regarding their chance to dance in March.
“It does make a difference. Not to say last year we didn’t have to anything to play for, but it’s big you know? All the hard work we put in during the preseason makes you excited for the postseason,” senior guard Frank Eaves said.
Sophomore forward Griffin Kinney had much of the same to say.
“Not having the postseason as an option [last season], it was definitely tough,” he said. “Having the conference tournament is just more motivation.”
Fox chose to take a more short term look on the season in hopes that the team wouldn’t get ahead of themselves.
“We have a lot of work to do as a team to get better for what’s coming up ahead of us,” Fox said. “We have to worry about tomorrow’s practice, then the next day’s practice before we can even worry about games. The postseason is a long way off and we have to just keep getting better.”
Ultimately the Mountaineer’s goal has to be improvement before they can dream of the postseason. Improving their execution in coach Fox’s offense has been the focal point of this team since Fox’s arrival last year.
“I think having the older guys knowing the details of the system, we’ll be able to help teach the younger guys to get it down faster,” Kinney said.
Improvement will definitely be needed if the Mountaineers hope to achieve their lofty goals of winning the Sun Belt. Appalachian State, picked to finish sixth place in the conference by the preseason coaches poll, has their eyes on a conference title.
“We have a good chance to be really good and competitive this year,” Eaves said. “We want to win the Sun Belt and I think we can do it with the guys we have, the coaches we have and the work ethic we have.”
Eaves will definitely have to play a large role in the offense if that goal is to become a reality. Eaves, chosen to the all-Sun Belt second team, is expected to be a leader on the offensive end of the floor.
Last season Eaves was fifth in the conference in scoring, averaging 16.6 points a game to go along with 3.9 rebounds and 1.7 assists. Eaves broke out as the Mountaineers’ go-to guy and is expected to remain that guy entering his senior year.
“I think Frank is a great leader for this team, whenever your best player can be your leader and buy into the system, that’s all you can ask for,” Kinney said. “Offensively, he is our greatest weapon and I expect nothing less from him with all the work he has been doing over the offseason.”
Along with contributions from Eaves and a general improvement across the board from the whole team, Appalachian State is hoping that their freshmen can make an immediate impact.
“All of them, from Tyrell [Johnson], to E, [Logan Emarius], to [Ronshad] Shabazz to Bennett [Holley], they all bring something different,” Eaves said. “I think Shabazz is a great player, he can attack, he can shoot, he’s well rounded. He’s got a big body and I really think he’ll be able to help us.”
Frank Eaves wasn’t the only one who was high on freshman guard Ronshad Shabazz, as coach Fox also echoed that he could be a really special player for the program.
The Mountaineers will take to the floor of the Holmes Convocation Center for the first time this season Tuesday in an exhibition against Belmont Abbey at 7 p.m. before opening the regular season against Jacksonville University on Nov. 14.
Story by: Lee Sanderlin, Sports Reporter