by Josh Decker
Coming off of a successful 2019-2020 regular season that saw the Yellow Jackets’ season end with an early exit in the G-MAC conference tournament, the Cedarville men’s basketball team is focused on improving and looking forward to the 2020-2021 campaign, especially with all of the uncertainty surrounding the season with COVID-19.
Cedarville came away with 18 wins last year and an overall record of 18-11. A solid 13-5 conference record was good enough to secure fourth place in the G-MAC, but now the Yellow Jackets are hungry for more as they come in ranked second in the G-MAC Preseason Coaches’ Poll, behind only Findlay. The team lost only one key producer in Demond Parker, and even though he cannot contribute on the floor this season, Parker will serve as a graduate assistant coach this year under head coach Pat Estepp.
Other than Parker, Cedarville brings back a fully reloaded roster from last season, which is a luxury few teams can boast. The Yellow Jackets return all of their top five scorers from last season, all of whom averaged double digits per game, including starting point guard Branden Maughmer.
The standout junior averaged 15.0 points per game last season, and also led the Yellow Jackets in 3-point shooting at 43% on his way to earning G-MAC all conference first-team honors.
Maughmer explained that despite his offensive skill set, he is looking to involve his teammates more this year.
“Personally, I would say just staying focused and getting my teammates the ball more this year. Just making sure the team is going,” Maughmer said regarding his goals for the year.
Cedarville also returns 6-foot-7-inch redshirt junior Quinton Green, who was behind only Maughmer in points per game last season and averaged 13.1 a contest. Green also shot 39% from 3-point range, which was second on the team.
With all of the offensive skill on the roster though, Green is looking to focus on his defensive game this season.
“I’ve been focusing on becoming a better defender,” explained Green.
In addition to Maughmer and Green returning, the Yellow Jackets also have senior Conner TenHove, junior Kollin VanHorn, and junior Isaiah Speelman coming back, who were all right behind Maughmer and Green in points per game last year.
TenHove’s veteran presence as a senior means he will look to take a larger leadership role on the team.
“I am looking to be a leader on the court. Having a ton of energy and making sure guys are locked in, but also talking a lot,” said TenHove. “Leading the team spiritually and making sure we stay locked in academically.”
Head coach Pat Estepp is confident that his team is in a very good position right now.
“I’ve been really proud of them. As coaches, we are just really proud of how hard they have worked. Their energy has been good, their focus has been good,” said Estepp.
Another player on the roster, Jacob Drees, is excited for his sophomore campaign.
Drees, a 6-foot-7-inch forward, is looking to add to his role on the team this season.
“I want to be more of a leader this year and learn to embrace my role by being more consistent in doing the little things like rebounding and defending,” said Drees.
As a freshman last year, Drees was second on the team in rebounds per game, averaging 4.8 a contest, which was behind only TenHove, who led the team with 7.4 rebounds per game.
Along with all the returning faces for the Yellow Jackets, there are also a few new faces that have arrived and will be looking to make an impact.
Cedarville’s talented freshmen class includes guard Jayvon Maughmer, the brother of current junior Branden Maughmer, forward Grant Whisman, and guard Colby Cross. The Yellow Jackets also added a transfer in guard Brandon Redendo.
Branden Maughmer said, “Playing with my brother again, I think that’s going to be the most fun.”
The Yellow Jackets have already had to overcome a couple challenges this preseason though.
With COVID-19 pushing back the start of the season, the players have had to endure an abnormally long preseason. Additionally, the Yellow Jackets have had multiple players sustain minor injuries.
On a positive note, the long preseason this year has enabled the team to begin to develop good chemistry, which is key if the Yellow Jackets are to build on their success from last season.
Jacob Drees exclaimed that the preseason has been going well, and he feels good about how it has helped the team.
“It’s been a long and tough preseason, but it’s been good to have a lot of time because it’s helped us gain some chemistry,” noted Drees.
Estepp also acknowledged the hurdles his team has had to face already this season.
“This year is going to throw curveballs at you, whether it’s COVID-19 or whatever,” Estepp remarked.
The Yellow Jackets’ coach said the key is for the team is to keep their daily focus and have a good mindset every day they are on the court.
“You know how important it is to embrace the day you have, because you don’t know what tomorrow holds. It has been cool to see a young group of guys do that,” stated Estepp.
As the season gets closer, the urgency and preparation has increased for the Yellow Jackets.
Junior forward Isaiah Speelman is excited for the start of play, and believes the team has been practicing well.
“I think we look great. Everyone that is returning is hungry after last year, and we know we have the opportunity to be special. Practices have been really competitive, and it’s a really good group to be around,” said Speelman.
6-foot-8-inch junior Kollin VanHorn echoed Speelman.
“I think we are in a good position right now. The way we compete in practice everyday is great,” said VanHorn.
Cedarville’s season will tip off on December 3, when the Yellow Jackets travel to Columbus to take on G-MAC opponent Ohio Dominican. Cedarville will play a total of 20 conference games this season, with the top eight teams in the league getting into the conference tournament, which is set for early March.
Cedarville’s goals are high this year with such a talented team.
“I think the goal of the team is without a doubt a conference championship. We know we are more than capable of it, and we just have to work and focus on it. This is the best team I have been on in my time at Cedarville, so I’m really excited to see what we are capable of,” said senior Conner TenHove.
Estepp is also optimistic about the potential for his team this year.
“I think our aspirations are high,” Estepp explained. “I think we have enough talent to compete with anybody in our region and our league. We are going to have to take it one day at a time.”
Josh Decker is a junior Sport Business Management major, and a sports reporter for Cedars. He loves playing sports with friends, and spends much of his free time as a student assistant for the Cedarville men’s basketball team.