Coach Pat Estepp said he believes his men’s basketball team is further ahead in preseason than usual. He said there are two factors that contributed to the team’s preparation. The first was a successful team trip to Italy and the other was team bonding over the summer.
“Being over there (in Italy) and playing four games, getting to see everybody, and getting the team bonded a little early was huge for us,” Estepp said. “I think it really helped kickstart our preseason. We are further along than we have been.”
In Italy, the Jackets and other NCAA Division I schools played against teams from Lithuania and Italy.
There were also eight players that stayed on campus over the summer instead of going home. Estepp said this also contributed to their great preseason.
“They were in the gym all the time, and they are better,” Estepp said.
Estepp said the team still has a long way to go, but he sees a lot of potential for the season. He said their new players, new assistant coach and returning veterans are all big pieces to this year’s team.
Three new athletes joined the Jacket squad this season. The only freshman joining the team is Jonathan Thomas, a walk-on guard from Adena High School in Ohio.
“He makes guys guard him in practice,” Estepp said. “He is going to make other guys better. He plays hard, he’s smart and a great kid.”
Estepp also added two transfers. Joey Morlan is a sophomore transfer from NCAA Division II Florida Southern. Estepp said the 6-foot-5 forward will be getting backup minutes in the four-spot.
“Joey is a really good shooter,” Estepp said. “He’s a pick-and-pop guy that can stretch the floor. He has a pretty high basketball IQ and knows how to play.”
The other new transfer is Dazhonetae Bennett, a junior-college transfer from Indian Hills Community College in Iowa. Estepp said Bennett’s high school coach from nearby Trotwood-Madison reached out to him in August when the team was in Italy. He told Estepp that Bennett really wanted to play at Cedarville.
“That was a lot on ’Tae’,” Estepp said. “He really wanted to be here. He felt God was calling him to be here. We are really excited about him. Just a tremendous athlete. Tae is probably close as athletic as Mugabe Thomas, one of the greatest athletes to put on a Cedarville uniform.”
New Assistant Coach
Along with three new players, a new assistant coach joins the team this year.
Nick Fox is a former professional player in Denmark who reached out to Estepp after former assistant Zach Brown took a full-time high school coaching position.
“Coach Fox was one of the first guys to reach out to me,” Estepp said. “He’s going to be a tremendous asset for us. He can work with our 4’s and 5’s and will make those guys better. He’s got some experience at the professional level that we just didn’t have.”
This will be Fox’s first coaching job, but Estepp said he is doing a good job and relating well with the players.
“I think he is going to be a really good addition for us,” Estepp said.
Estepp said the team has tremendous leadership this year. Forward Easton Bazzoli and guards J.C. Faubion, and Justice Montgomery are the team’s three seniors. Guards Patrick Bain and Evan Kraatz are the team’s two returning juniors.
“Those guys have really stepped up and are leading well,” Estepp said. “I haven’t had to get on our guys at all about their effort, which is sometimes what you spend a lot of preseason getting them to do.”
Estepp said he believes this year’s squad can get the team back to how good they used to be. They were 14-15 last year.
“Maybe not 24 wins a year, but these guys have a chance to do some special things this year,” he said.
Estepp said all of his players have gotten better from last year. He said he is not sure there is just one that stands out from the rest.
“Everybody has asked me who has impressed me the most,” Estepp said. “I can’t say because I feel like everybody on the team has gotten better. Our depth has gotten better just because of the improvements everybody has made from last year to this year.”
The team opened the season with exhibition games at Wright State and at Cedarville against Athletes in Action. The official season kicks off Friday, Nov. 11, with the Don Callan Classic. Cedarville will host Truman State and Maryville the next day.
Cedarville is projected to finish third in the GMAC behind Kentucky Wesleyan and Alderson Broaddus.
Cedarville men’s basketball team will play Truman State at 7:45 p.m. in the Callan Athletic Center. on Friday, Nov. 11.
Josh Burris is a senior journalism major and the sports editor for Cedars. He is interested in sports broadcasting and reporting. He enjoys watching sports, lifting, and listening to rock and rap music.