After Swarthmore men’s basketball strong start, senior captain and point guard Cam Wiley is happy with the results but expects more from the team as the season progresses: “Right now we have a strong foundation, but we’re not where we want to be … by the end of the season we want to be playing our best basketball.” The results of the first four games, however, could not be better: 4-0 with a pair of victories on the road.
The Garnet cruised in the first three games. In a road win at The College of New Jersey and home victories against Delaware Valley and Washington, they won by an average of 27 points and shot a blistering 49 percent from the field. The defense also clamped down on opponents, only giving up 65 points to TCNJ, 55 to Delaware Valley, and 51 to Washington.
Arcadia College, however, proved to be Swarthmore’s first real test of the young season. The Garnet had another strong offensive performance, scoring 82 points, but surrendered 77 in a game that was tight throughout. Arcadia scored 48 points in the paint and shot 52 percent on field goals, consistently getting the ball inside Swarthmore’s defense. But the Garnet managed to hold on in the second half and win, in no small part thanks to sophomore Connor Harkins’ season-high 28 points on 8 of 14 three-point shooting.
Harkins has been a standout player so far, one of many underclassmen playing heavy minutes on a young team. He’s been given the “green light” to shoot at will, says Wiley: “Connor definitely has that license … [he’s] one of the best shooters I’ve ever played with … no matter what, we want him to always shoot.” And he has shot, taking 45 three pointers, more than twice as many as anyone else on the team. The threes are falling at a 40 percent clip, excellent by any measure but especially impressive considering his high volume of shots. Harkins is averaging a team-leading 17 points per game.
Another underclassman playing at a high level is first-year guard George Visconti, playing 21.8 minutes per game, most of all first years and sixth-most on the team. Averaging 10.8 points, he scores like a savvy veteran, using an array of leaners, bank shots, and stop-and-pop jumpers. Asked about Visconti and fellow first-year guard Colin Shaw, Wiley says the most important component of their growth is their confidence: “they’re willing to learn but they’re also willing to fail … having such a great attitude at their age has been beneficial to them … that confidence comes from failure, in practice, before the season even started.”
A lack of timidity and nervousness has characterized not just the first years, but also this team as a whole. They rarely panic and force up tough shots, instead calmly swinging the ball around the court even if they use most of the shot clock. Missed defensive assignments were rare in the two home games (Delaware and Washington), and the composure of the Garnet in comparison to their opponents was marked. A young team playing with such level heads is a testament not only to the players, but also to the coaching and team-building of Landry Kosmalski and his assistants, who have recruited all but one player on the roster.
The team, of course, is not all underclassmen. Swarthmore’s frontcourt duo of juniors, Nate Shafer and Zac O’Dell, have kept up their productivity from last year with Shafer averaging 7.3 points and 8 rebounds and O’Dell averaging 12.8 points and 8.8 rebounds. With 11 blocks each, they’ve anchored the defense and protected the rim, important jobs given that Kosmalski often features lineups with only one big man. They’ve also amassed 20 assists between them, finding shooters on the perimeter from their spots in the post.
But the team captain, Wiley, is the strongest force in making the Garnet’s offense go. Filling the stat sheet with 15 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game on 44 percent shooting, he pushes the pace, breaking defenders down off the dribble and finishing with acrobatic drives to the hoop. Turnovers, however, have been a blemish through the first four games. He has almost as many of those (12) as assists (14).
Swarthmore’s schedule gets tougher in the coming weeks, with a visit to last year’s conference champions Johns Hopkins and home games against Franklin & Marshall and Ursinus approaching. The Garnet played the first two of those teams close last year, clinching the conference regular season title against F&M and losing in the playoffs to Johns Hopkins. Wiley insists the match against Hopkins won’t be a revenge game. Regardless of how he and the team feel, the game will certainly start to answer the season’s question: will the Garnet encounter further smooth sailing or rocky conference waters?