Men’s basketball prepares for the 2019-20 season
Bulls hope to defend their championship for a third time in a row
The 2019-20 men’s basketball season is almost underway, as the Bulls stepped on the court for their first official practice Sunday.
The defending conference champions are adjusting to a new roster and new dynamic after losing a few key players last season. But with four new faces and the guidance of both a new head coach and veteran players, they’re hopeful for another successful year.
The Bulls won the Mid-American Conference Championship for the second time and made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament the second year in a row, finishing with a 32-4 record. The end of the season marked the graduation of five seniors –– Montell McRae, Jeremy Harris, CJ Massinburg, Dontay Caruthers and Nick Perkins –– who were all powerhouses for UB and were a huge loss to the roster.
But the Bulls’ biggest change this year doesn’t wear a jersey.
Jim Whitesell has moved into the head coaching position for the Bulls following previous head coach Nate Oats’ move to Alabama. Whitesell isn’t new to the program and has spent the last four years as the associate head coach.
Players say they’re excited to have a familiar face around as they enter this new chapter of UB’s basketball program.
“Coach Whitesell has been with me my whole career here, so it’s not too much of a change and I feel great going into this season,” senior guard Davonta Jordan said.
Whitesell shares his players’ excitement.
“Working with these guys is awesome so I’m very appreciative and grateful,” Whitesell said at Monday’s practice. “It’s a great challenge.”
Whitesell has previous experience as head coach at Loyola University Chicago, where he spent seven seasons, followed by assistant coaching positions at St. John’s and St. Louis before he joined the Bulls’ coaching staff in 2015.
UB has also added some new talent to its roster that Whitesell hopes can help defend the team’s conference title.
Freshman guard Savion Gallion, a 6’4” player who spent last season at Mt. Zion Prep in Maryland, is one of the team’s new additions. He was an under-the-radar recruit and committed to UB in May. Gallion averaged 13 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists per game last season.
As another new addition to the team, freshman center David Skogman is one of the tallest on the roster this year, standing at 6’10”. He comes from Waukesha West High School in Wisconsin, where he averaged 18.6 points, 12.6 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game last season
Sophomore 6’7” forward Josh Mballa is from France where he was the No. 6 recruit. Mballa spent last season playing with the Texas Tech program and transferred to UB this season with the hopes of getting more time on the court. He was injured for the better part of last season, averaging just .8 points per game with his lack of playing time. He scored 13 total points last season in 58 total minutes.
Freshman forward Laquill Hardnett, a 6’8” player, transferred from Cincinnati where he redshirted his freshman year, also made the move to Buffalo for this season. In his senior year at Perry Hall High School in Maryland, he averaged 17 points, 10 rebounds and four assists per game.
Every new face on the team comes in with hopes of filling some very big shoes.
“We’ll be a little different than last year. You can’t just clone those guys, they were special players.” Whitesell says of last year’s seniors. “I think [the players] just have to be themselves, we’ll look at what each guy’s strength is and improve their weaknesses.”
The team’s veterans know they have to be leaders for the younger players, and are excited to embrace their new roles.
“I’m just a natural-born leader,” Jordan said. “I just feel like I have to step up to the plate and lead my team to whatever it is we have in store for us.”
Jordan already showed his leadership last season as a huge contributor in earning the MAC Championship. He averaged 7.4 points per game and led the team in steals (1.5 per game) and assists (3.6 per game).
Junior guard Jayvon Graves was another big player for the Bulls last season. He was the fourth leader for the team in points per game (9.7) and averaged 4.2 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game, and is ready to take on his leadership role.
“Whatever I can do to score or help anybody else on the team score, that’s what I’ll do,” Graves said.
The Bulls will begin their season and their run for another championship on Nov. 8 against Dartmouth at home.
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