If preseason Great American Conference No. 2 ranked Arkansas Tech is going to capture its fifth conference title in six years, head coach Dave Wilbers said he believes the Golden Suns’ depth will be what gets them there.
“This team has a lot of good basketball players,” Wilbers said. “Our incoming recruiting class and returners have both been doing great so far.”
Wilbers said he and his coaching staff won’t know who the starters are until the first game, but three returning starters are as good as penciled in for the 2014-15 season.
Down low, senior forward Jacinda Meyers-Sanders earned a spot on the All-GAC Honorable Mention list last season by averaging 11.5 points and nearly 7.5 boards a night. Also at forward, junior Caroline Eubanks looks to build on 10-point, seven-rebound average per game from the 2013-14 season. Sophomore guard Anissa Pounds started 23 games last year, averaging 13.2 points per game and totaling 77 assists on the year.
“All of our returners are better than they were last year,” Wilbers said. “But new players like [junior forward] Fatima Adams, [junior guard] Shaunice Robinson and [junior guard] Katrina Hayden all come from high-level junior college programs that were ranked in the top five in the country. These girls know how to win.”
Team effort is stressed, Wilbers said, and he makes it a point to his team that players coming off the bench are just as important in their roles as the starting five.
Successfully diversifying offensive and defensive schemes, Wilbers noted his team’s ability to play half-court basketball, run the court and use its experienced post players to go inside and hit shots.
Wilbers said the team plans to follow suit with the three-guard, two-post player setup Tech has used with success in the past.
“We’re an overall bigger, stronger and more athletic team,” Wilbers said. “And that’s a credit to what they’ve done in the offseason.”
Tech’s offseason program has undergone various changes in the past year, Wilbers said, the most important of which has been the addition of Ross Bowsher, the team’s new head strength coach, and his graduate assistant Nick Spadafore.
“Ross and Nick have done a great job taking our strength and conditioning program to next level with weight lifting and agility training,” Wilbers said. “We’ve seen big improvements since those two joined us. In the past the coaching staff had to handle training, and we’re not experts, but they are.”
The training has been paying off, but Wilbers said his coaching style places him in “an unusual minority” because he isn’t, nor has he ever been, a coach who sets team goals. He said he doesn’t even pay attention to the other teams playing each other throughout the regular season, instead always just preparing for his own team’s next game. The only goal in front of the Golden Suns is improving every day, he said.
“One thing we’ve always talked about is winning championships, though,” he said. “That entails conference, regional and we’ve even been close a few years to winning a national championship. We just want to reach our potential as a team.”
In order to maximize this potential and make the NCAA tournament, every Division II game, especially the Golden Suns 20 conference games, is crucial.
A couple of Tech’s four league championships in five years were won by only one game, placing a vital importance on Wilbers’ maxim to “take it game by game.”
The Golden Suns next exhibition game will be Saturday at Tucker Coliseum against Central Baptist College at 1 p.m., and the regular season will begin the following Monday at home against Ecclesia College at 5:30 p.m.
Wilbers said he encourages students to make it to every home game, becoming not just a fan “but a part of our program.”
“We’ve always had a great atmosphere with the students sitting on the ends of the court,” Wilbers said.
“Tech has two good basketball programs here. We’ve been ranked No. 1 in the nation for four straight years, and we’re looking to continue that pattern this year.”