WINCHESTER — Shenandoah University’s men’s basketball team was bound to have to alter its playing style. That’s often the case when teams experience the amount of roster turnover that the Hornets went through heading into the 2018-19 season.
SU, in Year 2 of a rebuild under head coach Adam Walsh, has just five returning players from last year’s team among the 16 Hornets listed on the roster. The makeup of that roster — Shenandoah will be guard-heavy this year with just one player listed taller than 6-foot-5 — means the Hornets want to play at a more frenetic pace than a year ago.
Walsh, whose SU team went 8-18 (3-13 in Old Dominion Athletic Conference play) in his first season last year, said on Wednesday that he would rather play “in the 80s and 90s than play in the 50s” this winter, a nod to a more chaotic, fast-paced, high-scoring brand of basketball that Shenandoah hopes to bring to the court each night.
“The game of basketball is a game of chaos,” said Walsh, whose team opens the season today with an exhibition game at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, a Division I program that rose to national fame by becoming the first 16-seed to beat a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament with its first-round upset over Virginia last season.
“If our players don’t know how to react and play basketball, we’re gonna look ugly out there. It’s gonna look sloppy. It’s not gonna look good. And a game of chaos that’s played in the 80s and 90s, there’s a lot of chaos. If you’re pressing and trapping and back-tipping, running and jumping and doing different things, the game’s gonna speed up, and I hope it’s a game that the crowd enjoys and the fans enjoy and wanna be a part of. (With) our youth, we need to make sure we can score enough.”
Finding those scorers — the Hornets lost six of their top eight from a year ago — is just one of the areas Shenandoah needed to address this offseason. Being better on defense, where the Hornets allowed an ODAC-worst 80.1 points per game last season, topped that list.
SU figures to press more this season to take advantage of its team speed — junior Chris Chaney said the Hornets should be one of the fastest teams in the ODAC this winter — but needs to improve its communication on that side of the ball.
“The biggest thing I feel like with communication,” junior point guard Jalyn Jarrett said, “is being able to get out of your comfort zone. A lot of guys come in here, you may not have to communicate as much in high school and that may not be guys’ character. … Now I feel like we’re learning how that can separate (good defense from bad defense) just that much more.”
Shenandoah fared better on the offensive side last winter, ranking seventh in the ODAC in scoring (75.2 ppg), but lost most of that production.
The Hornets, who don’t have a senior on their roster, returned their leading scorer and rebounder in Chaney, who averaged 11.8 points and eight rebounds per game last year, but Jarrett (6.8 ppg) is the only other Hornet returnee who averaged over 5 points per game last year.
“Those two have to produce for us this year,” Walsh said. “I’m not putting that pressure on them daily but for us to have some success … those two need to be, and they can be, better than they were last year.”
Without yet playing a game, Walsh said he’d argue that the Hornets improved their shooting ability in the offseason after shooting 40.9 percent (10th in the ODAC) from the floor last year.
Walsh said junior Alan Dabney, a 6-5 forward who averaged 4 points in 12.6 minutes per game last year, is Shenandoah’s best shooter and could be the best player on the court if he can harness his full potential. Newcomers like Alex Horvath and Mark Melbourne add more shooting ability to the mix.
The Hornets also need to improve on the 15.5 turnovers per game they averaged a year ago, and Walsh said SU aims to fare better in close games after losing six one-possession/overtime games in 2017-18.
“We really needed to improve our efficiency from last year,” Walsh said. “Yes, we need to be better on defense, but that’s also an efficiency thing. Are we closing out with our hands up every time, or are we closing out with our hands down? To me, that’s an efficiency equation of are we doing the right thing at the right time? Are we making a layup or are we missing a layup? If we’re at the rim, we need to be making those. We can’t shoot 40 percent at the rim even when we’re scoring 80 because if we’re giving up 80, we can’t miss two (points).”
Among Shenandoah’s new additions are its first international player in program history, according to Walsh, in New Zealander Harry Wall; its first high school state champ in “a while” in guard Jaylen Williams, who won a Virginia High School League Class 5A title with Potomac Senior High in 2016; its first North Carolina recruit in a handful of years (forward Jason Tate); and a Hagerstown Community College transfer in Jason Hutzler, whom Walsh said averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds a game at the junior college level.
In all, SU has nine freshmen and a sophomore among its 16 players.
“Definitely seeing some growing pains,” Chaney said. “But we’re all family though, so at the end of the day we try to squash it and move on. During practice we get competitive, words can be said, but at the end of the day we’re still a family, still a team.”
Shenandoah’s 8-18 campaign in 2017-18 — which included a 10-game losing streak to end the year — was the 10th straight losing season for the Hornets, who were picked 11th of 13 teams in the preseason ODAC coaches poll. SU plays its first regular-season game at Mount Aloysius on Tuesday.
Walsh said SU’s goal this season is — and always will be — to win the ODAC, though success for the Hornets this year won’t necessarily be measured by their record.
“We have to look at growth,” Walsh said, “(and) I think we have to look at how our young guys mature this year — they’re not measurables. Maybe you can kind of create measurables there, but I think obviously we wanna be better than we were. Preseason picked 11 this year; we don’t wanna be 11. Can we get to the middle of the pack this year? I would like to think so. Are we gonna have a chance to win some games? We better. I don’t wanna stay the same.”