There is a newfound energy in the Swarthmore men’s basketball team. Anyone who saw the team in the weight room all fall could feel it, and anyone who happened to be in the vicinity of the gym at 9 AM every Sunday morning in November could feel it too. The message rang loud and clear from the beginning of the semester: the 2012-2013 version of the Swarthmore men’s basketball team is going to be unlike any in recent years.With a new coach, straight from NCAA Division I powerhouse Davidson has come a new system, and a “much more intense” work ethic, in the words of forward Will Gates ‘13. Coach Landry Kosmalski has demanded a new style of fast-paced, unselfish basketball, with a focus on defense. Kosmalski pointed this out, saying, “I think we are playing a little bit more uptempo offensively, which is probably the biggest change a fan would notice.” The new coach and system has brought a renewed sense of confidence to a team coming off of a difficult 2011-2012 season that was marred by the resignation of long-time head coach Lee Wimberly. The changes have allowed the team to set lofty goals for itself. According to Gates, “We feel that we are in the top half of the league, so our goal this year is to make the Conference playoffs.”
While the team is certainly not celebrating its 0-4 start to the season, it recognizes that learning a new system is a process that cannot be completed in just a few games. Swingman Jay Kober ‘14 acknowledged this, saying that “With a new coach there is definitely an adjustment period.” However, the junior, who has been off to a hot start this season, averaging a team-leading 16.8 points and 6.0 rebounds per game, stressed that the team expects improvement, adding, “We have all really bought into what coach [Kosmalski] has been teaching us and we are all excited about the potential that this team has.” For his part, Kosmalski praised the team’s effort: “All of our guys have been working extremely hard on a consistent basis…Our focus is on getting better every day.”
Guard Karl Barkley ‘15 echoed Kober and Kosmalski’s hopeful tones, saying that, “The new system has been a learning process, but we are getting to where we need to be with it.” While Barkley admitted that “Its tough to start [0-4],” he emphasized that “We gained a lot of experience from the early games that will make us better in the long run.”
There have been several encouraging signs from the team’s early games. In the team’s opener against Roanoke, the team shot 48% from the field, a significant improvement from last season’s 36% average. Additionally, the team has been competitive late into games. In 3 of 4 games, the team has been within single digits of the lead at halftime, including the Roanoke game, which Swarthmore led, 45-36, at the break. Swarthmore also currently ranks second in the Conference in rebounding, putting it in position to reach Kosmalski’s goal of being “first in the Conference” in rebounding.
In order to move into the win column, Swarthmore will need to reduce its turnovers. In the loss at Rosemont, the team gave the ball away a season-high 24 times, a number difficult to overcome. However, as Gates points out, “We have a completely different system than we had last year.” As the team learns this new system, the team should be able to decrease its turnovers, increase its assists, and begin to work towards its goal of finishing in the top five in the Centennial Conference. As Barkley put it, “Guys are confident in the system, now it’s just a matter of really executing it and being exact.”
Two bright spots so far this season for the Garnet have been Barkley and forward Joe Keedy ‘14. After playing sparingly during his freshman season, Barkley has been one of Swarthmore’s most consistent players early on this year. His 11.2 points per game rank second on the team. He has also allowed Swarthmore to spread the floor effectively by shooting a team-leading 48% from beyond the arc.
After helping the soccer team to the NCAA Sweet 16, Keedy made his presence felt immediately, logging 32 minutes off the bench in his return to basketball Monday night at Rosemont. Keedy poured in 13 points and 6 rebounds, helping Swarthmore remain competitive until the game’s closing minutes.Although Swarthmore was picked to finish tenth in the Centennial Conference, the team, with its new coaching staff, new philosophy and new energy, is confident that it can exceed expectations. Swarthmore was competitive in its Conference opener against Dickinson, despite the fact that the Red Devils were picked to finish in second place. Moving forward, as the team gains confidence and experience with the new coaching staff, Swarthmore should catch its Conference opponents by surprise. Swarthmore basketball has moved into a new era, and with it, expect to see wins, playoff appearances, and exciting, up-tempo, competitive basketball.