In collegiate sports any season can turn on a dime, for better or for worse. Sometimes a certain player catch’s fire and doubles their scoring average. Others it can be as simple as losing a player to injury. In any case, coaches and players work tirelessly to keep success rolling or dig themselves out of a hole.
No matter what the cure for this year’s men’s basketball team is, one thing is certain: the big men down low battling in the trenches will have to make an impact. 6-9 sophomore Ben Aird will be a large cog in the wheel, both figuratively and literally, and he knows how important the big men will be.
“We (the front court) need to step up and make the easy buckets,” Aird said. “It’s been tough to score at times this year, so what Geddes (Robinson) and I need to do is finish when we get good looks down low. That not only gets us points, but it opens things up for our shooters outside and then Isiah (Williams), Holton (Hunsaker) and those guys can get better chances as well.”
The first lesson in sports is that the team who scores more points wins. Head coach Dick Hunsaker however, makes sure that his team understands basketball isn’t an offensively only affair.
“A huge focus for us is dominating down low on defense,” Aird said. “If another team is going to score on us, we want to make them have to go over us or through us to do it. We can’t allow easy baskets and we have to rebound. It’s awesome to have a teammate like Geddes Robinson. He is one of the best rebounders in the country and you see him working so hard and it inspires you to play harder.”
Other times all it takes is a change of scenery for a team to do a 180.
The Wolverines have subscribed to the same theory of playing tough opponents in the pre-season as Brent Anderson and the women’s soccer team. Similarly, they both had their fair share of struggles early on. Anderson’s team lost to Weber State, Wyoming, Miami and Utah to kick-off a 1-4 start while Hunsaker’s crew lost to Houston, Arkansas, Wyoming and Utah State on their way to a 4-4 record.
The soccer team was able to learn from the early challenges and mount a turnaround finishing the season on a tear. The team earned sweeps of all major conference awards individually, but more importantly they won both the regular season championship as well as the conference tournament.
The same lessons learned by the soccer team are there for the taking for Aird and his teammates.
“Our schedule has helped us grow as a basketball team,” Aird said. “You look at the teams we’ve played and how tough they are, we were in most of them even though we may not have won. And that helps you learn and grow to become the team that you want to be at the end of the season. So I think it definitely has helped us to become who we are.”
If this team is able to make the same type of turnaround as Anderson’s squad and accomplish the goals they believe they will, it will come down to trust, according to Aird. Each man must do their part and trust that their teammates will do the same. With 18 games down and 13 to go it’s getting down to the wire for this year’s stable of players to make their mark.
“I think we are making strides to get to where we need to go,” Aird said. “Coach is emphasizing building team chemistry, working together and having faith in each other. We are making a lot of progress. We may not be there there yet, but we are on the right path.”
By Jonathan Boldt – Asst. Sports Editor
Photos by Lance Larsen