By Tim Miller
A Division I NCCAA National Championship is nice, but after achieving that feat last season, the Cedarville men’s basketball team wants more.
The Yellow Jackets surpassed 20 wins for the first time since the 2012-13 season last year. Further, they lost just one key producer in Grant Zawadzki. Zawadzki, though he can’t contribute on the floor, will serve as an assistant coach this year for Cedarville.
The ability to own almost a fully reloaded roster is something few teams nationally get to boast. The Yellow Jackets return their top two leading scorers in junior forward Conner TenHove and sophomore guard Branden Maughmer.
TenHove, a G-MAC first-team selection last season, averaged 15.0 points per game and paced the Yellow Jackets in rebounds with 6.3 per game. The Valparaiso, Indiana, product also made 46% of his 3-point attempts. Maughmer, one of the most electrifying freshmen in the conference last season, scored 14.1 points per game and made 51% of his attempts.
Cedarville also returns redshirt sophomore forward Quinton Green. Heading to the Callan Athletic Center for any game last season would likely feature Green abusing the rim with head-scratching dunks. He averaged 9.8 points per game and averaged an even 18 points in his final six conference games, including two games over 20.
“He has every bit of the makeup to be all-conference this year,” head coach Pat Estepp said. “There aren’t a lot of guys in the league or in Division II who are like him.”
Estepp praised his team for its work during the summer and preseason. On top of improvements by Green, Estepp said TenHove, Maughmer, and senior guard Demond Parker and sophomore forward Isaiah Speelman have noticeably improved.
Though Parker’s stats with the Yellow Jackets have been modest, the intrinsic value he brings to the team this season is unmatched. Parker has always been a vocal leader for the Yellow Jackets, especially defensively.
Parker played in every game but two last season, and though he averaged just 2.5 points per game and was an underachieving shooter, Estepp said he expects the Huber Heights, Ohio, native to break out.
The senior beats everyone to the gym each morning for practice, and this season he may reach the full potential the program has been waiting to see for two years since his transfer in from Wilberforce.
“He’s a very key player to what we’re doing,” Estepp said. “He may not score more than others, but I don’t think we have anyone as valuable as him. When he’s on the floor, we’re better. We don’t win the NCCAA national championship without him out there defensively.”
Parker, though, doesn’t get caught up in individual accolades. He said he’s always been a natural leader and that this season, that’s the role he wants to focus on.
“I want to do whatever it takes to win,” Parker said. “I don’t really have any personal goals, I just want to be a leader and help guys get to there spots and improve.”
The chance to reload, rather than rebuild, has the team buzzing.
“We better have a lot of fans out this year because it’s gonna be a movie,” junior guard Andrew Stein said.
While the Yellow Jackets will use a “three-headed monster” of TenHove, Maughmer and Green, as Estepp put it, the team is also the deepest and balanced it’s been in years. Estepp expects sophomore Kollin Van Horn (10.2 points per game) and Seth Dittmer (18 games played) to pile onto the already mentioned talent and depth.
Cedarville hasn’t had high expectations or received respect from the conference in years, and now the team recognizes there may be a target on their backs heading into 2019. The Yellow Jackets were voted to finish third in the G-MAC preseason poll.
“We’re expecting to be at the top of the conference,” TenHove said. “We’re not the underdog anymore, people are coming for us. It’s new for us, but it’s exciting.”
The Yellow Jackets’ nonconference schedule will be a grind. They face Nova Southeastern and Lynn, along with NCAA Midwest Region standouts Grand Valley State, Indianapolis and Truman State.
Estepp said he expects the G-MAC to be more competitive than it’s ever been. Findlay landed in the preseason NCAA Division II rankings, Hillsdale just missed the NCAA Tournament last season and Walsh won 24 games last season.
Estepp said the team’s overall balance, length and depth will be its identity. Further, he said this team has better chemistry and is more benevolent than teams he’s coached in the past.
“We’ve gotta stay healthy and unselfish,” Estepp said. “If those things happen, I think we have enough talent to compete for a league and tournament title. Our goal is to get to the NCAA regional.”
Tim Miller is a senior marketing major, editor-in-chief and sports editor for Cedars. He enjoys having a baby face, knowing too much about health insurance, and striving to perfect the optimal combination of Dwight Schrute and Ron Swanson.