“You always feel like you could have gone farther … we were playing really well in the tournament,” said head coach Landry Kosmalski. Last year, Swarthmore men’s basketball went through a string of new heights for the program but ended the season on a loss in the unforgiving climate of March Madness.
Yet after leading the team to its best finish in school history, Kosmalski is confident they can meet and exceed sky-high expectations in 2018-2019. The Garnet come into this year after a regular season Centennial Conference championship and a historic run to the Division III Elite Eight that culminated in a 72-64 loss to Springfield. This season the Garnet are ranked No. 13 in the country and are poised to build on the successes of the last several seasons, settling in as a conference, and hopefully national, powerhouse.
The team, however, will have a different look and feel than in years past. The graduation of guards Zach Yonda and Jim Lammers and center Robbie Walsh means the loss of a third of all minutes played last year. Yonda and Walsh were also both four-year starters, with Yonda earning All-Centennial Conference Second Team honors the last two seasons. “We’ve had guys working for years who are ready to step up and take on new roles,” said Kosmalski. “I think it’s really kind of a cumulative effort, everyone is kind of stepping in … I think it’s going to be a real group effort.”
Two sophomores and a junior, who all earned heavy minutes last year, will play a large part in filling the gaps left by graduated players. Sophomore guard Ryan Ingram started 26 games last season, leading all freshmen in minutes. Fellow sophomore Conor Harkins, also coming off the bench, averaged 8.8 points while shooting a team leading 44 percent from three. And forward Nate Shafer averaged 9.7 points and 6.4 rebounds in 21 minutes off the bench. When asked about the sophomores, including backup point guard Abass Salah, Kosmalski said, “They’re playing like seasoned veterans now … they’re going to play primary roles and help us out in a bunch of different ways.” The loss of Walsh also means even more playing time for big man Zac O’Dell, who led the team with 60 blocks and in rebounding (8.2 per game average) while earning All-Centennial Conference Second Team honors last season.
But the most important contributor will be senior starting point guard and team captain Cam Wiley. “When he’s attacking, whether for himself or to create others, that’s good for us,” said Kosmalski. And the results have proved the coach right. After injuries hijacked his freshman year, Wiley’s success has tracked with the team’s rise to prominence. He has piled up awards in the process, including two All-Centennial Conference First Team selections, a D3hoops.com All-Mid-Atlantic Region Second Team spot, and a National Association of Basketball Coaches All-America Third Team selection. Leading the team last year in minutes, points, assists, and steals positions Wiley to build on his legacy as one of the best to ever play at Swarthmore. However, his contributions that don’t show up on the stat sheet will also be vital, said Kosmalski: “The biggest thing for this year is being a senior leader … stepping into that role and leading the younger guys, because we are a younger team … he’s done a really good job.” The team is now Wiley’s; its ceiling will be determined by his play.
The team’s play will look different from the more defense-oriented units of Swarthmore’s recent past, however. Kosmalski said, “We’re trying to figure out what’s best for this team, because it is different … we’re going to be pretty offensively talented, defensively we’re getting there … we’ve definitely made strides in the past week.”
“Getting there,” of course, is not the same as having arrived, but Kosmalski notes that this takes time with younger teams. Court spacing through three point shooting and playing up-tempo will be a focus, as well as an increased usage of attacking lineups utilizing four guards.
In a Centennial Conference that promises to be competitive with defending champion Johns Hopkins ranked No. 15 and Franklin & Marshall receiving votes in the national poll, Kosmalski denied that the team is focusing on the competition or outside expectations. “The season is a journey for us… it’s really how are we going to get a little bit better each day…not focused on what people think we ‘should’ do this year, we’re really just focused on being the best team we can be, fifteen guys and four coaches.” These are standard talking points for a coach trying to keep his team focused on the day-to-day issues of a basketball team, but they certainly don’t lower the high expectations Swatties now have for a team getting used to competing at an elite level.
The Garnet’s home opener is Saturday, November 17, at 6 P.M. against Delaware Valley University.