Scots anxious for season, to get streak going again

Scots anxious for season, to get streak going again

A few thoughts from the week in sports …

The College of Wooster men’s basketball team can’t wait to get its season officially started when it hosts the Al Van Wie/Wooster Rotary Classic on Friday, Nov. 18.

With one of the best small-school traditions in the country, the Fighting Scots always look forward to their season opener.

Third-year head coach Doug Cline’s team has several reasons to have added incentive to start playing games that will count in the standings.

The Scots had an NCAA Div. III record of 18 straight appearances in the national tournament snapped last season after finishing 19-9 overall and second in the North Coast Athletic Conference.

Wooster wants to start a new NCAA streak and knows it has the chance to be good. Actually, make that really good.

The Scots have four talented starters back and pretty good depth coming off the bench.

Finally, the Scots have packed about as much into a preseason as humanly possible. They took a trip to France, where they played three exhibition games. They had an exhibition game at Div. I Illinois State and scrimmaged a loaded John Carroll team — more on those experiences later in this column.

Cline admitted he wished the Scots had opened the regular season this week, instead having to wait until the Van Wie Tourney opener against Mount Aloysius on Nov. 18 at 8 p.m. Randolph will play Ohio Northern in the 6 p.m. opener, with the winners meeting for the title on Nov. 19 at 4:30 p.m.

“We’ve been going for a while now, especially with the France trip,” Cline said. “We’re all really, really excited to play next Friday.

“College basketball is a journey. It’s a two-semester sport and a long season. There's ups, there's downs and your success is determined by how you react to those ups and downs. We didn't achieve the goals we wanted to last season, but we still did some good things with a young team.”

There’s no mincing words when it comes to Wooster’s goals for 2022-23.

“We have to become a more mature team,” Cline said. “Our goal is to win the conference and put ourselves into a position to make the NCAA Tournament.”

The four returning starters will provide excellent leadership to work toward those objectives. Seniors Turner Kurt (6-foot-8) and Najee Hardaway (6-2) are both fifth-year players, taking advantage of being given an extra year due to the COVID pandemic. Junior Elijah Meredith (6-5) and sophomore Jamir Billings (5-11) also are very talented.

Kurt (13.4 ppg, 7.3 rpg) was a second-team All-NCAC honoree while Billings (11.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg) was an honorable mention pick and the Newcomer of the Year. Billings set a school record for steals (84), and his 164 assists were two shy of the record.

Hardaway (11 ppg) is an excellent driver and defender while the left-handed Meredith (13.7 ppg) has an excellent shooting touch in the paint and from the perimeter.

Sophomore Jayden Prince (6-3), a transfer from Case Western, will likely be the fifth starter and brings lots of athleticism to the perimeter.

Nick Everett, a 6-8 sophomore, averaged 7.1 points a game and will lead the bench crew.

The Scots’ overall defense is ahead of the offense entering the season, but Cline believes the points will come. He’s very pleased to have a more physical team.

“I knew one of the biggest things the France trip would help us with is learning to play more physical,” Cline said. “It’s more physical over there, and our players competed well.

“We lost a lot of close games last year, and they were determined by getting pushed around on the boards, not being strong enough. We really got after it in the weight room in the off-season. We have good size and good athleticism, but we're still a work in progress at being more efficient offensively.”

Preseason to remember

It would be hard to imagine any small-college team had a better preseason of preparation than Wooster.

During Wooster’s fall break, the Scots traveled to France from Oct. 7-16. The team enjoyed an unforgettable cultural experience and had a 2-1 record against older, more experienced French teams.

The Scots had 16 players make the trip. They saw sites such as the Louvre Museum, the Eiffel Tower, the Beaches of Normandy and foothills of the Alps.

“Most of these guys had never even been out of the country, so it was an awesome opportunity for everybody,” Cline said. “It's a great cultural experience. The players get to experience another culture and see things in person that they’ve read about in the history books.”

It marked the program’s seventh international trip and first since 2017. COVID forced the Scots to cancel in 2020.

The NCAA permits teams to hold 10 practices prior to an international trip, and coupled with the three international exhibition games, the Scots returned to Wooster bonded and ready to go.

“We played three games against European pro teams including the Metropolitan 92’s under-23 team,” Cline said.

Once back home, Wooster was much more competitive than the score indicated in a 84-49 loss at Div. I Illinois State, which is coached by 2000 COW alum Ryan Pedon.

“We can’t thank Ryan Pedon enough,” Cline said. “It was an awesome opportunity for us to be able to play against his team in an exhibition at Illinois State. He's a huge part of our program — always has been and always will.”

The Scots then played very well by all accounts in a scrimmage at John Carroll, which has several former Div. I college players among its seven transfers.

Parting shots

This year's Al Van Wie/Wooster Rotary Classic Youth Skills Clinic, hosted by the Scots basketball team and coaching staff, will take place Sunday, Nov. 13 from 1-3 p.m. at Timken Gymnasium. The clinic is open to all boys and girls grades 3-7, and they don’t need to be on a basketball team this winter to participate. Clinic participants are kindly asked to bring boxed or canned food items as admission or make a monetary donation to People to People Ministries.

—Best wishes to the West Holmes and Dalton football teams in regional semifinal contests Saturday. It’s quite an accomplishment for them to be the area’s last two teams playing for the second straight year.

Aaron Dorksen can be emailed at AaronDorksen24@gmail.com.