WINCHESTER – The hiring of Adam Walsh as Shenandoah University’s new head men’s basketball coach back in May marked the beginning of a cultural shift within a program that hasn’t had a winning season in nearly a decade. Walsh wants to help the Hornets discover a winning mentality, but he also needs to mold them physically into players who can compete at the college level on a regular basis.
The starting point when he arrived on campus, Walsh said last Thursday, was to get Shenandoah’s players into the weight room, something he said the Hornets didn’t do with enough regularity in the past.
“What I walked into was a culture of that not being important,” said Walsh not quite six months after he was hired to replace former SU head coach Rob Pryor, who went 40-117 in six seasons with the school before being let go in March. “And if you’re a college athlete you’ve gotta be in the weight room right now. You don’t have a choice.
“In my opinion, we have guys that if you just take the real common numbers that people look at, just bench and squat, we’re 50, 60 pounds, at least, behind where guys should be relative to how old we are as a program. … We have eight seniors right now and we have guys that are physically walking around as sophomores just from a physical body standpoint, if that makes sense.”
Under NCAA Division III rules, Walsh wasn’t able to put a mandatory weightlifting regimen in place out of season. All workouts were voluntary until Shenandoah opened practice on Oct. 15.
As a result, the Hornets were introduced to the benefits of regular trips to the weight room over the last several months and got a lesson in accountability in the process.
“It’s creating the culture that we’re gonna show up,” Walsh said, “and if we don’t, our teammates are gonna go get us.”
On the second day of practice the Hornets did some lifting before hitting the practice court, and Walsh said he could read it on the faces of his players that the idea of doing both on the same day was a new concept to those in SU’s men’s basketball program.
The Hornets better get used to it.
“We’re gonna lift all year long and we’re not gonna back off. We’re gonna lift heavy during the season,” Walsh said. “I’ve told the guys, if we do nothing else this year we will be stronger and more fit in February than we are in October. We can control that because now we’re in season, and we can make sure that we’re at least more fit than we were entering the season.”
If the early progress is any indication, Shenandoah’s players are already on the right path. Senior guard Kwa McDonald said his bench press maxed out around 190 pounds last season and he’s already up to 220 pounds in the few months since Walsh took over. Sophomore point guard Jalyn Jarrett started the year benching 205 pounds, he said, and topped out at 230 last week.
“From us going hard and making weights mandatory, it’s really improved our bodies,” the 5-foot-7, 155-pound Jarrett said. “… We maxed out about two weeks ago and you could see big jumps in everybody’s weight programs. That’s gonna be a big part of our season this year.”
And it’s just the start of the sweeping changes Walsh has made in his short time back in his hometown. The Winchester native and 1997 James Wood High School graduate said Shenandoah’s program under his tutelage would be built around the hallmarks of toughness, communication and accountability, with a heavy emphasis on the communication.
“That ‘communicate’ thing, you’re gonna hear me bark on that a lot,” Walsh said.
“You should be able to hear in our program what we’re talking about. … You should hear in our practice, you should hear it from their language once its entrenched. And I think we’re getting close to things being entrenched.”
And within the practices themselves, Jarrett said, the Hornets have been competing in nearly everything they do on the court.
“Everybody on our team, I mean you can see the disgust in our faces when we lose. Everybody wants to compete and I think that’s a major part of our practices,” Jarrett said.
“Everything is pretty much competition. We have to compete. If we’re not competing we ain’t doing something right, so every drill, every series is competition, basically.”
Shenandoah opens the 2017-18 season with a road game at Southern Virginia University on Nov. 15.