Men’s Team Ignores Preseason Hype

Jacob Margolis ‘20 

Basketball Correspondent

Triple Threat: Junior guard Kellen Grady ‘21 will look to lead the ‘Cats back to the NCAA tournament this season as he did during his first-year at Davidson. Photos courtesy of Tim Cowie; Davidson Sports and Information

For better or for worse, there has been an incredible amount of hype surrounding the Davidson Men’s Basketball program heading into the season. Both the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches Polls have the team pegged as a fringe top 25 team. Matt Norlander, a Senior CBS Sportswriter, even had Davidson as the nineteenth best team in the country in his own pre-season top 25. 

However, according to Associate Head Coach Matt McKillop, the hype isn’t getting to anyone’s head inside the basketball program. When asked about the topic, Matt McKillop stated that “there is a lot of preseason recognition, but we’re tuning that out and focusing on ourselves and getting better on a daily basis.” He further added that around the program and practices, you “[wouldn’t] hear much about championships, rankings, or anything beyond […] practice.” Still, for basketball fans, it is hard to ignore the external talk.

What is fueling the talk around the program? Much of it comes down to what the team is returning from last year’s successful, 24-win team. First and foremost, the team returns its top six rotation players, who in total accounted for over 95% of the team’s minutes, points, steals, assists, and 92% of the team’s rebounds. In an era when many players leave early to pursue professional opportunities and hundreds more transfer annually, a team returning this much of its production is incredibly rare and valuable. Matt McKillop said that “experience is so pivotal [and] will allow the team to take that next step.” Head Coach Bob McKillop also made sure to assure that returning so much will not lead to any sort of complacency. He stated that “[the players] have not been content with yesterday’s glories, they want significantly more.” When it comes to the players who are returning, there is good quality as well as quantity.

A major reason why Davidson is receiving so much attention is because of its star backcourt duo, comprised of Jon Axel Gudmundsson ’20 and Kellan Grady ’21. 

Both players have accomplished much: Gudmundsson was the Atlantic 10 player of the year last season and Grady was a first team All-A10 selection, but they are capable of even more. In fact, some pundits have opined that the two could be among the best backcourts in all of college basketball this season. When asked about the duo, Bob McKillop called them “triple threats [whose ability] to see the court will help the team significantly.”

While Gudmundson and Grady are apt to dominate and show just how good they are on any given night, Davidson is far more than just two stars. As Gudmundsson stated in an interview, “basketball is not a two-person sport, we have really good depth, and the team as a whole is looking really good right now.” Both Bob and Matt McKillop backed up this assertion as well, and the former confirmed that “there will be a deeper bench and bigger rotation this year.” This increased depth will hopefully keep the team fresh and allow key players to perform effectively deep into the season.          

If there is one legitimate question heading into the season, it is who will be the first big man off the bench. Last season, Dusan Kovacevic ’19 held down that role and backed up starting center Luka Brajkovic ’22 effectively. According to the coaching staff, Brajkovic has worked hard to get stronger and become more physical, but he will not be able to back himself up. That responsibility will fall to Danish freshman David Kristensen ’23, sophomore Nelson Boachie-Yiadom ’22, and junior Bates Jones ’21. There is a lot of confidence surrounding these three players. Matt McKillop called Kristensen “really versatile [and] athletic,” Coach Mckillop said that Boachie-Yiadom has the potential to make unique contributions defensively, and he confidently stated that Bates Jones “made a huge jump from last year.” 

Another question is if the team has any forwards to back up starters Luke Frampton ’22, who led the conference in threes, and fifth year senior and team leader Kishawn Pritchett ’20. This responsibility will fall to freshmen Hyunjung Lee ’23 and Mike Jones ’23. As of now, there is evidence that these two are up to the challenge. 

Lee has received a lot of hype coming in, and was heavily recruited by multiple power 6 conference teams before he committed to Davidson. Jones was one of the best players in Minnesota his senior year of high school and was expected to heavily contribute to last season’s team before he tore his ACL and was forced to medically redshirt. 

At guard, the first player off the bench will be Carter Collins ’21. Collins had a breakout season last year and is even expected to take another step forward. The team also has guard David Czerapowicz ’22. Czerapowicz showed flashes of high-level shooting and ball-handling abilities last season in limited time and will get a chance to make a difference this upcoming season.

It is fair to say that expectations may be the highest for the Davidson Wildcats since they entered the Atlantic 10 Conference five seasons ago. Whether or not they can deliver on those lofty expectations remains to be seen, but with a star backcourt duo leading the way and the team returning ostensibly every key player from last season’s 24-win team, the expectations make sense. If the team can stay healthy and integrate more players into a deeper rotation, this could be a season to remember.

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