LAURA BEAN/THE ARKA TECH: The Wonder Boys prepare for their final game against Harding University last season at Rhodes Fieldhouse, which was named “The Best Roadtrip Destination in College Basketball.”
First year head coach Chad Kline will look to replicate the three conference championships he helped secure in his three years as an assistant coach at Arkansas Tech, as he takes over at the helm for a 2014-2015 Wonder Boy basketball team picked to win the Great American Conference once again.
“The players have responded great to the coaching change so far, but we also haven’t played a game yet, so things are always easy until they get tough,” Kline said. “We haven’t faced adversity, but with so many returning guys, it’s been a good transition.”
Tech’s only returning starter is senior guard Tyler Friedel, a dangerous three-point threat (averaging 40.4-percent shooting from behind the arc last year) who averaged 9.3 ppg this past season.
But Kline said other returners who’ll be key in winning games and making it to a seventh-consecutive NCAA tournament appearance include junior forward Nick Wayman and senior guards Bryson Fletcher, Clarence Willard and Jay Murphy, the latter of which is back after an injury had benched him last season.
Wayman got the start in 19 games last year, averaging 4.6 ppg and a 32.2-percent 3-point shooting average. Coach Kline mentioned Fletcher as “having a non-stop motor and being an overall unbelievable person,” in addition to 5.7 ppg and 50-percent 3-point shooting averages in 2013-2014. Willard earned nine starts this past year, averaging 6.4 ppg and totaling 60 assists.
But last year’s performances don’t carry over, and Kline said his starting lineup is nowhere close to being set because plans can and do change all time.
“The lineup changes close to every day in the preseason based on practice performances and keeping guys healthy,” he said.
Whoever the starting five may be, Kline said it is Tech’s goal to win the GAC title each year. In fact, he has come to expect it.
“Winning the conference and making it as far as possible in the NCAA tournament is always the expectation here,” Kline said. “But specifically we just want to worry about the things that we can control. Our attitude and effort will determine how we do on the court. If we perform to the best of our ability in those areas, winning will take care of itself.”
Kline said the Wonder Boys are coachable, and their toughness, listening and communication skills are what he said he believes to be the team’s most valuable assets.
His team’s approach will be to always focus on the next game only, he said.
“We have 25 Division II games, so we don’t have any off nights,” Kline said. “We need to be ready to strap up every single game.”
Winning games is of course the team’s goal, he said, but more important to him is producing men who will win at life by become beneficial members of society after college.
“I want them all to know how to act and treat people,” he said. “Then they’ll remember it was their university that helped mold them into the person they are.”
He said he feels himself unbelievably blessed to be able to take over as the 22nd head basketball coach of “a great institution full of great people.”
Before coming to Tech, Kline served as an assistant coach at Coastal Bend College. After this assistant stint, he became the head coach at Frank Phillips College, leading his teams to a combined 90-60 record.
While at Tech as an assistant, the Wonder Boys have posted a 65-28 record (41-15 GAC).