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Men’s Basketball hopes to defend title

in Men/Sports/Winter by

If you take a walk through the lobby of the Fieldhouse these days, you’ll likely hear the sound of a ball repeatedly striking hardwood. That’s right, basketball is back in season, and the Garnet Men’s Basketball team are making a statement to start the season. They’ve so far gone 4-0, averaging almost 95 points a game, the 20th most in the nation, while outscoring their opponents by nearly 15 points a game. Coming into this season, the Garnet were ranked No. 25 in the nation and were the preseason Centennial Conference Champion selections, and now they find themselves at No. 12 in the most recent rankings.

The Garnet reached their first NCAA basketball tournament last season after winning the Centennial Conference for the first time. However, this year’s team only returns six of last year’s players. Key losses include Sam Lebryk ʼ17, career 1000 point scorer Chris Bourne ʼ17, and former starting point guard Matt Brennan ʼ18. However, they retain the services of point guard Cam Wiley ʼ19, who had an absolutely phenomenal breakout sophomore season and was named the first ever Garnet All-American after setting the program single-season record for scoring. He is also joined by Zack Yonda ʼ18, a two-time All-Conference selection. Big man Robbie Walsh ʼ18 also returns for the Garnet as a force in the paint. Last year’s top rebounding team has been well serviced by him so far, along with fellow big men Zac O’Dell ʼ20 and Nate Shafer ʼ20. All three already have at least 20 boards each on the season. Jim Lammers ʼ18, the final returner for the Garnet, has tallied the second most minutes on the team and is perhaps best known for his spectacular defense.

Because of all of those personnel losses from last season, the Garnet brought in a very large first-year class of seven.

The freshman are doing a good job getting acclimated to our system and have continued to improve as they get more reps in practice and more game experience.  Since we only have 6 returners from last year they will have to play a big role since many of them will need to play significant minutes for us,” said Walsh.

Already some of the first-years are having a big impact for the squad. In the first game of the season, when the Garnet blitzed Hood College for 111 points, first-years sharpshooter Conor Harkins ʼ21 had a career performance in his first career game as he scored 27 points, all coming off of three pointers. Abass Sallah ʼ21, another first-year, has already taken on the role of primary ball handler for the Garnet whenever Wiley is off the floor, and he recorded eight assists in the game against Hood. Ryan Ingram ʼ21 has also been playing significant minutes for the squad.

In terms of expectations coming into the season, Yonda’s might have been initially tempered.

“Because we have so many new, young guys, I realized coming into this season that we might have a slower start than past years. It’s a lot easier to start the season strong when we’ve have a team full of seniors and juniors that all have three plus years of experience under their belts. I wasn’t expecting us to struggle at the beginning because we brought back some key guys and brought in a ton of talent, but I was prepared to face some tough ‘learning experiences’ early on,” said Yonda.

However, as the Garnet have opened with a four-game win streak, the team’s performance has surely exceeded his initial expectations.

“The young guys have been doing an incredible job at picking things up quickly and absorbing information and have exceeded my expectations in that regard. Their performance so far is a huge part of why we already have four wins,” Yonda said.

Head coach Landry Kosmalski, in his five years at Tarble Pavilion, has managed to transform the Garnet from the dregs of the Centennial Conference into a regional powerhouse. Last year’s Mid-Atlantic Region Coach of the Year and two-time Centennial Conference Coach of the Year took over a team that had only won three games the previous year and by last year had brought them to NCAA tournament and their most successful season in program history.

The Garnet already have a game under their belt in conference play as they travelled down to Maryland to face the Shoremen of Washington College. Wiley scored a game-high 18 on an efficient 7-of-13 shooting as the Garnet pulled out a 79-70 victory in their lowest-scoring game of the year. Yonda added 17 points, including seven from the charity stripe. Shafer and O’Dell both had near double-doubles as Shafer went for 11 points and nine rebounds while O’Dell scored 10 and grabbed eight boards, in addition to adding four blocks.

If there is anything to complain about in the Garnet’s performance so far, it might be their slow starts. In their game against Albertus Magnus, they trailed at the half before going on to win by a comfortable 10-point margin. In their game against Misericordia, they only scored 33 in the first half to find themselves tied, before going on to score an astounding 60 points in the final twenty minutes. The Garnet have consistently made up for any slow starts with rousing second-half performances and have managed to win all their games by fairly comfortable margins.

“We’re winning games because we are talented and can really turn it on for short periods in games which not many teams can handle. You saw that in the Misericordia game with the second-half run that blew the game open. I think we’re doing a good job right now sharing the ball and getting good shots on offense, and also our bigs are doing a tremendous job defensively protecting the rim,” said Yonda.

The Garnet open home conference play tonight against Muhlenberg at 8:00 p.m. as they hope to keep their hot start going. Perhaps another NCAA tournament appearance awaits later this season. In any case, they’ll surely be an exciting team to watch.  

Men’s Basketball beats Dickinson, crowned CC Champs

in Men by

Seattle’s CenturyLink Field is known as being one of the loudest sports venues in the world. Tarble Pavilion just might have given it a run for its money this past Friday and Saturday as the Men’s Basketball team competed for and won the Centennial Conference championship for the first time in school history. Tarble was filled to capacity as students crowded the arena to watch Swarthmore’s blowout win over Ursinus College in the semifinals and their hard-fought win over Dickinson College, securing the trophy along with their first conference championship.

Now the Garnet is participating in the NCAA championship tournament for the first time in program history. They secured an automatic berth because of their conference win. They were  selected to host the first two rounds of the tournament for their pod of four, which includes the College of Staten Island, Christopher Newport University, and Morrisville State University. The basketball team will have the chance to play at least the first two rounds for the national championship in front of their home crowd.

The Semifinal game against Ursinus started out fairly close, with Ursinus trailing by four points early in the second half. At that point, the Garnet began to turn it on, unleashing a scoring barrage that saw them go up by 21 points with six minutes remaining. The Garnet settled down to hold on to a comfortable 86-66 win over the visiting Bears amidst an electric Tarble Pavilion crowd. The Garnet were able to get many players involved in that game as six players scored in the double digits and center Robbie Walsh ’18 recorded his first double-double of the season with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

However, point guard Cam Wiley ’19 led the Garnet in the championship game, scoring 28 points and shooting over 60% from the field and from 3-point range. This performance secured him the tournament MVP award, to go along with his unanimous selection as All-Centennial Conference First Team and Centennial Conference Player of the Year award. This game was one of the most hard-fought for the Garnet all season. Dickinson led at the half by four after going on a hot streak to end the period. Halfway through the second half, they extended the lead to 11 points. But the Garnet showed off their resilience, going on a 12-0 run to regain the lead, holding that lead for the rest of the game.

Wiley was especially impressive down the stretch, hitting a handful of three-pointers to keep Dickinson at bay and drawing chants of MVP every time he touched the ball from the raucous Swarthmore crowd. As the clock ran out, students had to be restrained so the Dickinson team could leave the court before the Swarthmore student section rushed the court and mob the basketball team.

Starting shooting guard Zack Yonda ’18 said, To win the first Centennial Conference title in school history in front of our home crowd is something that myself, and people around here will never forget. To do it with a group of guys who I plan to know for the rest of my life made it even more special.”

Wiley, who started the season as a reserve, saw his play time and statistics balloon after his freshman season in which he only played 14 games. This year, he was second in the conference in points per game and 8th in assists per game. Yonda contributed 13 points in the final’s win to cap his junior campaign which saw him break the career 1,000 point mark and be named to the All-Centennial Conference Second Team.

The Garnet faced tough matchups all year leading up to this conference tournament.

Being the preseason #1 seed in conference, every team that played us was an underdog, and because of that we got everyone’s best shot night after night. Additionally, we played much better competition in our non-conference schedule this year to better our chances of getting an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament,” Yonda said.

But the Garnet constantly fought through adversity, including the loss of point guard Matt Brennan ’18, to earn the first-seed in the conference, the right to host the tournament, and eventually the championship win.

“Since long before I arrived, every guy on the roster and every coach on the bench has been sacrificing themselves for the good of the team. The product of all that sacrifice is our unparalleled cohesiveness, our undying passion, and a spirit that earned us the title of Centennial Conference champions,” forward Nate Shafer ’20, the Centennial Conference leader in blocks, said.

Head Coach Landry Kosmalski, in fifth season at Swarthmore, has truly been a game-changer for the Garnet. He has coached them to consecutive 22-win seasons, as well as their first ever NCAA tournament berth. He now leads the Garnet into uncharted territory, as they compete in their first ever NCAA tournament. Kosmalski is also now a back-to-back recipient of the Centennial Conference Coach of the Year Award, and with him at the helm and plenty of young talent coming in, the Garnet look poised for success now and in years to come.

Yonda put it best, “For the first time in decades, Swarthmore men’s basketball is on the map and here to stay!”

Athlete of the Week: Zack Yonda ’18

in Athlete of the Week by

For Yonda, last Wednesday was a night to remember. In addition to dropping a team high 20 points, the junior from Berwyn, PA became just the 21st player in program history to record 1,000 career points. To top off the week, Yonda scored 13 points in Saturday’s win against Johns Hopkins and recorded a block eerily similar to that of LeBron James’ in the 2016 NBA Finals. On the year, Yonda is sixth in the Centennial Conference in points per game (13.4), seventh in three point percentage (42.3%), and second in free throw percentage (88.5%).

MAX KASSAN: Even though you’re a junior, what did beating Hopkins on Senior Day mean to you?

ZACK YONDA: It meant a lot. Definitely one of the biggest wins since I’ve been at Swat. Senior Day is always an important game, but this one had some extra history behind it. Only our juniors and seniors will remember this, but two years ago when I was a freshman we played Hopkins in a similar game towards the end of the season. At the time, they were a top 15 team in the country and we were nobody, expected to finish in the bottom of the conference standings like so many years prior. I remember the game so well because we played near-perfect and had a chance to pull off one of the biggest upsets in program history, but blew a huge lead in the last few minutes and ended up coming just short. Since that loss our program has won something crazy like 70 percent of our games, but every year Hopkins continued to beat us up. Going into Saturday, no player or coach on our roster had ever beaten them. So even though I was a junior, I knew how badly Sam [Lebryk], Chris [Bourne], and Mike [Rubayo] wanted that win, and I’m so glad we were able to get it for them. The fact that it also happened to be Senior Day was icing on the cake.

MK: What was running through your mind when you scored your 1000th point?

ZY: It’s funny, I really had no idea I was close to 1000 until Swat Athletics Instagrammed about it before our McDaniel game, and even during that game I lost track of how close I was as the game went on. My hope was that I’d cross the milestone without realizing it so I didn’t have to think about it, but the opposite happened and I finished the McDaniel game at 999. Honestly, I was excited during the Ursinus game but I just wanted to get it over with because that was a huge game for us and I wanted the night to be about us getting a win, not me scoring my 1000th. When the shot finally went down I was relieved but it was almost immediately followed with an “alright, now lets go get a dub” feeling, if you know what I mean.

MK: You’re from 30 minutes away from Swat (Berwyn, PA). Did you have a lot of family members come to the game? What did it mean to you sharing the moment with them?

ZY: Being close is so great because my friends and family come all the time to watch. I actually had more fans at the Hopkins game than the Ursinus one, but my parents are at almost every game, so they were there to see 1000. In that regard, I was happy to have come just short at McDaniel because they couldn’t make it to that game, and I knew how badly they wanted to see it in person. They were definitely more excited than I was.

MK: Looking ahead, what’s your mindset going into the playoffs as one of the top seeds?

ZY: We’re going to have the same mindset that we’ve had all year: focus only on the next game on the schedule and on getting a little bit better with every practice. We know we can beat anyone when we play our style, so we just have to prepare with that in mind. I’m excited to have the opportunity to compete for a championship for the second year in a row.

MK: You guys have come a long way since your freshman year (7-11 record); what does it say about the program that you are just one win away from a regular season conference title?

ZY: It definitely shows our growth. My freshman year, no one expected us to be any good, and we really weren’t. I remember each win we got was super exciting because people weren’t used to winning around here. Before I got to Swarthmore it was even worse (Sam, Chris, and Mike will tell you). Last year we were still playing as underdogs; picked to finish 7th in the conference and ended finishing in 2nd. That year you could see our growth in our record. This year though, the target has been on our back since game #1. If we win a big game, it’s because we were the better team and should have won. When we lose, it’s our fault and out crawl the critics from the woodwork. I think our success despite that nightly pressure has shown even more growth than last year for our program, but it’s too early to say anything permanent about our season and whether or not it’s been a successful one. We have to finish through the line these next few weeks. There is a lot of basketball still left to play.

Barkley’s egotism hampers team

in Sports by
karl prom king
Karl Barkley ’15 wins the title of prom king his senior year – the beginning of his egomania.

“When you think about player of the year candidates you gotta think Jahlil Okafor down in Durham, North Carolina. This kid’s leading the Dukies. I can easily see him in the final four, baby. But hey, don’t ask me. I’ll see you in Indianapolis!”

If you’ve spoken to Karl Barkley ’15 in the past few months, you’ve probably heard him yell that string of sentences. Just a week ago, Barkley, the men’s basketball team’s starting small forward, finally pulled the trigger and entered the Oberto Beef Jerky Dick Vitale impersonation contest. The fan submission that gets the most votes will win a weeklong trip with Dick Vitale. Barkley’s impersonation has gone viral, amassing over 36,000 loops on Vine and garnering over 2,300 votes. With the next highest submission at 825 votes, Barkley has a commanding lead and looks like the early favorite to bring home the jerky trophy.

Although Barkley’s success seems like it would be beneficial for everyone, his impressions may have caused a setback for the blossoming team. As the  team’s only senior, many of the players look up to Barkley and follow his lead no matter what. However, according to one teammate, the team’s faith in Barkley could have negative repercussions in years to come.

“During the season Karl seemed pretty focused and then towards the end I’d walk into the locker room and I would hear him acting like he’s Dick Vitale or something,” point guard Matt Brennan ’18 said. “He’d be in there for hours and I would say, ‘Karl, you wanna shoot around?’ but he wouldn’t stop talking in that damn voice.”

As team captain, Barkley was called upon  to be a role model. Instead, his growing obsession with voices and his unwillingness to get in extra work on the court rubbed off on the younger players and contributed to an attitude that was not conducive to winning.

Now that the season has concluded, Barkley finally pinpointed the time where his focus began to wane.

“I think it was around the McDaniel game where my friend notified me that this Dickie V contest was coming up,” Barkley said. “At that point I stopped caring about accurately relaying information on the court and became more [conscious of] how to work my Dick Vitale impression into [the game].”

Perhaps the pressure of being the only senior on the team got to Barkley and caused him to have a mental break. Or perhaps he just found his true calling in the impersonation business. In fact, sources can confirm that by the end of the year, Barkley made significant changes to the captain’s practices. He, with the consent of Coach Landry Kosmalski, replaced rebounding and ball-handling drills with something Barkley liked to call “Big Bark Talk.”

In Big Bark Talk, players would pick a name out of a hat and have to impersonate the subject. Items in the hat ranged from an eight-year-old girl at a candy store to Karl’s brother Charles Barkley. Little by little, players and even Coach Kosmalski accepted Barkley’s new method of practice and became keen on learning impersonations.

Brennan acknowledged, “Coach would be yelling at him and all of a sudden he would start yelling back at Coach as if he were Dick Vitale. He would start yelling stuff about ‘Diaper Dandies’ and what not. And Coach didn’t know what to do; he had to play along with it. Karl was just turning into a whole new person.”

What was most fascinating about this odd situation was that Kosmalski greeted Karl’s new methods with open arms. Some members of the team even admitted that Kosmalski coached the last game of the season in character. He took on the persona of an army general, referring to his field manual any time he needed something motivational to say.

Though the team and Kosmalski plan on employing Barkley’s methods for years to come, Barkley exhibited some concerns about the team’s future.

“[The freshmen] definitely are going to have to come up with something, or else they’re not going to be taken seriously,” Barkley said. “I can definitely see Matt Brennan developing his Croatian a little more…or Serbian excuse me. And Yonda… Yonda needs to figure everything out, or else he’ll never be fit to lead.”

In Barkley’s mind, success is clearly intertwined with alter-ego development. Yet, other members of the team, including Zach Yonda ‘18, didn’t see it that way.

“Karl is used to losing,” Yonda said. “[So,] it’s really promising that we’re bringing everyone back next year except for Karl.”

In voicing his displeasure with how Barkley’s innovative methods haven’t yet yielded results, Yonda established that the team’s new changes might not be here to stay. Though Barkley specifically called Yonda out for not having leadership abilities, Yonda averaged 14.3 points this season as a freshman and often provided fire to a team that focused more on emulating George Michael than Michael Jordan.

In the coming weeks, a decision will be looming about whether Karl’s system will stay or a more traditional basketball system will prevail. In any case, Barkley didn’t seem to care about his legacy.

“I’m going to have enough company in Dick Vitale,” Barkley said about his plans for next year. “He’ll make up for all those lousy teammates I had this year.” Barkley went on to add, “But I know they’ll miss me. When an impression like that walks out the door, it’s hard to fill that gap.”

Should Barkley’s convoluted vision of basketball prevail, the 2015-16 Garnet would be quite entertaining to watch. Yet, if they revert back to their old system, they will have a chance to make the playoffs for the first time in almost two decades. And with a young team devoid of Barkley’s bad influence, the team has a great chance at achieving their goal.

Watch the video that changed everything here: http://dickvitale.oberto.com/uqkxnty

Men’s basketball racks up three straight wins

in Sports by
Chris Bourne who helped lead the Garnet to victory against Ursinus is pictured here in last year’s game against Johns Hopkins. Photo courtesy of Swarthmore Athletics.

As the winter season picks up steam, so does the men’s basketball team. After dropping its first three games of the season, the team won both of its games over the week of Thanksgiving and beat Muhlenberg Tuesday to push the winning streak to three games and move to 3-3, CC 2-1.

Since its early stumbles, the team seems to have settled into the system and is looking forward to the upcoming season.

Sam Lebryk ’17 described the progress, saying, “Our team is very young, with six freshmen and five sophomores. The lack of experience bit us early, but we’ve settled in and started closing games out. We’ve also started to build better chemistry as a team because we know what Coach [Landry] Kosmalski wants from us and what to expect from one another.”

While on paper the season kicked off November 15, the men’s basketball team has been hard at work for much longer. During its offseason, the team focused on strength and conditioning. More so than in years past, the team hit the gym hard, emphasizing the need to get stronger as a collective unit. Aside from strength and conditioning, the team was practicing in the gym three times a week, and taking part in early morning workouts.

Once the season started Kosmalski pushed the players hard and set the bar high from the beginning. In order for his team to be successful in the Centennial Conference this year, Kosmalski believes the team will need to improve every day.

“We need to try to make every single practice our best practice of the year. If we can maintain consistent effort and focus, and if our guys can continue to hold each other accountable and support each other every day, we can be successful,”  Kosmalski said when asked about the keys to this season.

And the Garnet have seemed to buy into the system, slowly getting better with each game played.

The men tipped off their season in the annual Equinox Classic held on Swarthmore and Haverford’s campuses. The team quickly dropped to 0-2 on the season after losing to Rochester Institute of Technology 75-65 and Bard College 71-62.

A week later they travelled to Gettysburg to begin their first stretch of conference play. The team would go on to lose a close one, but played well nonetheless, losing by just five points. Garnet had the lead in the game until there were less than five minutes remaining in the second half. It was the third time in a row that the team led at the half and ended up dropping the game.

Since this time, the team has found a way to play well throughout the entirety of its games and has been able to close out its opponents.

“I think we really made a huge step in the Gettysburg game even though we didn’t get the result we wanted. The past two games we’ve played as a team for 40 minutes. The guys really had each other’s backs, especially against Ursinus,” says Karl Barkley ’15.

It was in the Ursinus game that the team picked up its first victory. In a hard-fought game with several lead changes throughout, the Garnet were able to fend off a second half rally to walk away with the victory. The underclassmen for the Garnet stepped up big time, scoring 36 of the last 37 points. Chris Bourne ’17 highlighted the Garnet win with a career high of 24 points and a team-leading 7 rebounds.

Carrying the momentum, Swarthmore handled Cairn with ease, winning 73-60 to pick up their second win of the season. Cairn played a tough first half and kept the game close, but the Garnet showed resiliency and slowly pulled away in the second half. Bourne set another career high, scoring 25 points and Barkley contributed another 18. With his strong performances in both games, Bourne would be named the Centennial Conference Player of the Week, announced on December 1.

Yet it was Tuesday the Garnet got their most impressive win yet. Playing against Muhelnberg, the team found itself down late after leading for most of the game. Luckily for the Garnet, Zack Yonda ’18 stepped up. With a career-high 17 points on the night, Yonda’s most important basket of the night came with 47 seconds left to put Swarthmore up one. From there, rebounding and free throws put the game on ice.

Bourne has noticed a difference in the way his team has been playing on their three-game winning streak. He says, “The difference has been that we have been sticking together through adversity during the games. In the first three, at times when we met adversity, we would not come together as a team and support each other. This year we have been putting an emphasis on supporting each other at all times and we believe that emphasis lead to our last three victories.”

Coach Kosmalski is happy with his team’s improvement in the short span thus far this season. When asked about what he thought the difference was he replied, “The difference has been that our players have done a great job learning from our early losses and have focused on getting a little bit better each game. Step by step we are getting to where we want to be. We have not made many adjustments thus far; rather, we are sticking with our system. We have been saying, ‘Do what we do, but do it better.’”

If the Garnet can keep up their recent performances, they have a great chance for a successful season. The team is young, but the underclassmen have shown they can contribute.

The Garnet will play a very tough Dickinson team on Saturday and then will not resume conference play until after the new year.

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