SU men’s hoops in a cultural overhaul under Walsh as opener approaches

Shenandoah University's Jalyn Jarrett looks to pass in a practice session last week. Rich Cooley/Daily

WINCHESTER – Adam Walsh has spent the last five months as Shenandoah University’s new men’s basketball coach overhauling a program, from a culture standpoint, that has been mired in mediocrity for most of the past decade.

Walsh is already making the Hornets physically stronger with a dedication to the weight room that is new to many of SU’s players. He’s stressing accountability, communication and toughness – the pillars he wants his new team to be built upon. He’s building relationships with his players in order to build trust, and implementing new concepts from an X’s and O’s standpoint to help a program that hasn’t had a winning season since 2007-08 find its way on the basketball court.

Sitting in his office last week, Walsh spoke of his new players’ willingness to accept and engage with an all-out rebuild, and he’s liked what he’s seen since the Hornets hit the practice court on Oct. 15

“I keep throwing around the word ‘potential’ with our guys because I believe we have very talented guys here right now,” said Walsh, a Winchester native who spent the past seven seasons as the head coach at Centenary College of Louisiana. “Now it’s figuring out how to address potential and turn it into production. … Obviously that’s a little bit on me as a coach. How do I pull it out of them? But it’s also on them to accept being held accountable at a new level, accept standards and accountability at a new level that they are not used to or adjusted to quite yet. But on the court we’ve been very receptive and I’m very excited where we are right now.”

Before Walsh could install his new system – which he said encompasses the “big picture” of the program and not just the on-court schemes – he first had to form the foundation of his relationship with his players. In his first 31 days on the job, which began on June 1, Walsh said he met with each of SU’s 17 players face-to-face.

Shenandoah University head coach Adam Walsh speaks to his players during a recent practice session inside Shingleton Gymnasium. Rich Cooley/Daily

Walsh, who said he measures his success as coach by the overall development of his players as people and not just as basketball players, wanted the Hornets to know his expectations, but also that he is accessible as a mentor.

“The trust that comes with all of that helps create the dynamic to form your team culture on,” Walsh said, “and the values that we’re building into this program, that this program’s gonna be based on, on my watch, is ‘love, play and compete.’ We’ve gotta learn what those mean.”

On the court, Walsh was still trying to get a feel last week for what exactly he’s got from a personnel standpoint as Shenandoah’s season opener at Southern Virginia University approaches next Wednesday.

The Hornets returned 10 players from last year’s team that went 9-17 in former head coach Rob Pryor’s sixth and final season. An 11th player, senior guard Aaron Patterson, has played in the program before but sat out last season for academic reasons.

And yet when Walsh was asked about a prospective starting five last week, he replied, “I don’t know yet,” adding that three or four players had begun to separate themselves but he wasn’t ready to name names.

Walsh went on to list a group of players that he said needed to be “focal points” of Shenandoah’s team this winter, a list that included senior guard Kwa McDonald, the team’s leading returning scorer (8.1 points per game in 2016-17), senior guard Jonah Meredith, 6-foot-8 senior forward/center Derrick Perry, Patterson (the Hornets’ second-leading scorer two seasons ago) and sophomore point guard Jalyn Jarrett.

“When we can, we will push the ball and I think guys that buy in and play into that will start to separate themselves as we move forward,” Walsh said.

Walsh added that Shenandoah has a mix of “really good” shooters, rebounders, defenders and overall playmakers, but pulling that potential out of them with consistency possession-by-possession and day-by-day is the “next step.”

Last season, the Hornets ranked ninth in the 12-team Old Dominion Athletic Conference in scoring (68.2 ppg), 10th in field goal percentage (42.4) and 10th in 3-point shooting (31.3 percent). Shenandoah also lost Malcolm Clark, the team’s leading scorer (18.4 ppg) and rebounder (8.3 per game) last season, to graduation.

Walsh said much of SU’s work on offense this preseason has gone back to the fundamentals.

“Our guys have to know how to dribble, how to pass, how to shoot,” he said. “It’s not just program habits, but it’s individual habits that we have to work on, and we’re doing that right now.”

The Hornets are going “pretty basic” on defense as well, Walsh said, with the introduction of half-court man-to-man after Shenandoah primarily played zone under Pryor. Walsh added that SU would be able to do “a lot more” defensively with plenty of personnel options.

“I like man because I feel like we have a lot of athletes,” said Jarrett, who played in 23 games and started two for SU last season, “so with that we’re able to use our athletes and we’re able to compete on the defensive end rather than sitting back in a zone. We weren’t able to use our athletes like we are this year, so I feel like with coach Walsh bringing this in and letting us play man, he’s letting us get after it.”

Last season the Hornets were first in the ODAC in steals (7.8 per game) and second in blocks (4.0 per game) but were ninth in scoring defense (73.8 points allowed per game) and ninth in 3-point shooting defense (35 percent).

“The zone, I think it slowed us down, like didn’t let us play to our full potential, pretty much,” McDonald said. “Man is definitely a great change.”

Despite suffering a ninth straight losing season last year, the Hornets did show some progress in the ODAC by winning five games in league play for the first time since joining the conference in 2012.

Shenandoah was picked last in the ODAC preseason coaches poll released on Oct. 26.

“The ODAC’s a beast,” Walsh said. “We’ve got our work cut out for us. Give credit where credit’s due. I mean the league’s good. … We’re picked last for a reason. Our guys have got to figure out what it takes to compete in this league, and that’s part of our daily approach right now is taking things to a level where we can be competitive in the ODAC. We wanna be winning the league in the next three years. That’s my goal. I wanna be in the conversation within three years. If it happens faster than that, our guys have done a great job.”