Aside from making up the biggest class in school history, the freshmen on Cedarville’s men’s basketball team bring cultural diversity, talent and humility to the court.
Seven players make up this year’s recruiting class. Center Roshane O’Brien and wing Gregory Wallace come from Jamaica. Forward Robert Okoro is from Nigeria, and forward Gabriel Portillo, a sophomore by credit, is from Italy. Stateside, wing Kwenton Scott hails from Arizona, and guards Colton Linkous and Kyle Laffin are from Ohio. Transfer point guard Justice Montgomery is from Florida.
‘It kind of all fell into place’
Head Coach Pat Estepp said he didn’t plan such a geographic diversity of recruits, but he said God brought each player to Cedarville.
“God orchestrates most of it. We work at recruiting, but Cedarville’s such a unique place that it’s difficult for us to focus on a certain area to recruit,” he said. “We just kind of go after kids wherever they’re at. And God opened doors, whether it was the Jamaican kids, or whoever – Justice, Kwenton – it kind of all fell into place, and that is one of the things we do. We work really hard at recruiting, but in the end, you trust that God’s going to get here who he wants here.”
Scott said he chose Cedarville because of the positive, Christian atmosphere.
“It was a school where I could focus on school, basketball and my faith,” he said. “The coaching staff and the professors here are great, and I feel that this is a place that could groom me into the man I am to become.”
This will be the second straight year in which a Cedarville basketball team has had seven freshmen. Women’s basketball head coach Kirk Martin brought in a class of seven last year.
“We’re in the same boat (Coach Martin) waslast year, except we probably have to rely on our freshmen even more than he did last year,” Estepp said. “He still had a good nucleus of juniors and seniors, and we just don’t have very many. So our freshmen, four or five of those guys are going to get a significant amount of minutes.”
Learning the game
Estepp said that although the freshmen are inexperienced, he enjoys coaching them.
“They work hard in practice, they get along well,” he said, “and we have guys who may not understand everything we’re throwing at them right now, but we don’t have guys who don’t understand the work ethic, and that’s been a big part of making it fun to coach them.”
Assistant coach Zach Brown said the international players are adjusting well.
“It’s a process for them, just to learn some of the language and the lingo and the style of play that we play here, but they’re getting it,” he said. “They’re picking it up every single day, getting better every day.”
The learning curve is steeper for some, Estepp said.
“Roshane and Greg, they’re just starting from square one. It’s just a different game down there (in Jamaica),” he said. “Not the same level of coaching. You’re dealing with (part-time) coaches down there who are all doing other things.”
But the freshmen come to practice hungry to learn.
“I think the biggest thing is that they are all very humble and willing to learn and willing to work hard,” Brown said. “And so if there is a language barrier or any kind of struggle that they’re having, they’re quick learners and very quick to ask for help when they need it.”
The 2015-2016 season
The season is approaching quickly, with the first game scheduled for Nov. 13. The coaching staff is working to get the freshmen ready for the opening tip.
“It’s hard to speed that process up, although we have to,” Estepp said. “So some of our juniors are going to have to play well early, and our freshmen are just going to have to be naive enough to go out there and make plays and not realize what they don’t know.”
Estepp said that as the freshmen get more used to the level of competition, they’ll start improving.
“Hopefully, as the game starts to slow down for all those guys, there’s going to bea handful of those guys who are going to be really good,” he said.
Estepp said this year’s team won’t have one star player doing the bulk of the scoring as Marcus Reineke did last season.
“This is not going to be a team that’s going to have one guy averaging 18 (points) a game,” he said. “We need to have four or five guys averaging double figures for us to be effective.”
Estepp said junior forward Easton Bazzoli has significantly improved his game since playing ball in New Zealand with Athletes in Action this past summer.
“I think it helped him as much spiritually as it did with basketball and just his leadership, and I’ve been really pleased with where he’s at this fall,” Estepp said.
Estepp praised the class for its athleticism and size.
“We’re not huge, we just got a lot more of that mid-range size, from 6 foot 3 to 6 foot 5, and I think the way we’re playing, hopefully that’ll help down the road,” he said.
Linkous said making the adjustment from high school to college can be difficult, especially in basketball.
“It’s a much faster pace, and everybody’s either better than you or the same as you, so you have to have fight each and every day,” the freshman guard said. “I enjoy growing together as a team, getting to know everybody, hanging out after practice, and just being with the team.”
Estepp said he believes this class has the potential to be great, more so for its work ethic than its talent or athleticism.
“Their willingness to be in the gym outside of practice and to put in the work is really high,” he said, “and they will eventually be one of the best classes we’ve ever had here, if they continue that, not just because they’ve got a good level of talent, but their work ethic is really, really good for a group.”
Jonathan Gallardo is a senior journalism major and sports editor for Cedars. He enjoys creative writing, quoting Lord of the Rings, and listening to Christmas music in November.