Men’s basketball finish out the season with a ‘buy in’ attitude

Published by Jazmin Ode on

Basketball with the Baden Elite logo facing forward. It is placed on the floor of the UCC basketball court.
The average points that the RiverHawks Men’s Basketball team scored through the 2023-24 season was 81.1 points. This season, there were 28 games the team competed in.
Gerardo Lopez / The Mainstream

The men’s basketball season ended Feb. 28 with a loss against Chemeketa Community College. The team never exceeded a one-loss streak throughout the season until the Chemeketa game ended with a score of 77 to 75 in Chemeketa’s favor. Many of the season’s games were nail biters with close scores, and the team increased their win rate over 2% from last year’s season.

The RiverHawks ended the first half of their last game with a 7 point lead but lost momentum with Chemeketa earning a 9 point lead in the second half. Despite the loss and the disappointment of not being eligible for finals, the athletes are still pleased with how the season turned out. Leo Sewell, a sophomore point guard on the roster said, “We had a lot of ups and a lot of downs but that’s just a part of a basketball season.”

UCC basketball player shoots a basket over a Mt Hood player in the UCC Basketball court.
Cash Corder, forward player 12, shot a basket over a Mt Hood player. The RiverHawks team shot 36.9% more free throws during the game against Mt Hood. Photo provided by Lindsay Leeworthy

Men’s basketballs’ head coach, Daniel Leeworthy, was still within the NWAC 10 game hiatus penalty from coaching at the beginning of the season; Broch Gilbert, the assistant head coach, stood-in for Leeworthy during his absence. Will Harris, a freshman guard said, “We were without our head coach for the first couple of games, and that is always hard to have a different coach. It was a little different than when a normal season would have started, but we were able to fight through that. We were able to get done what we need to and once we got Coach back, we were able to come together as a group and find our identity.”

Roy Bunn, another sophomore guard, recalls that in the beginning of the season the team’s biggest struggle ran deeper than practice or grades. “I think a challenge we faced in the beginning was our mindset. In the beginning, we didn’t work every day, we were taking breaks from practice, taking days off, not completing every day. I feel like we overcame that by some of the tough games we played in and understood each other as a whole,” Bunn said. “Our chemistry got stronger, and that ultimately led us to work hard for each other.”

Harris added, “We definitely rose to the occasion in some games, and we had some lapses in others. Overall, it was a good season, and it was fun to be a part of this team.”

The team’s mindset wasn’t the only hoop they had to jump through. “It’s a little hard, sometimes, to go in and compete every day when there is nothing, especially, to play for. There was a five-game stretch where there was nothing to play for. Another team had already clinched the region, so we couldn’t win the region, we couldn’t go to play offs,” Sewell said, “One of the things I’m most proud of with this team is that every day, in those five days, we competed. We easily could have laid down, and it was a challenge to wake up and be like ‘We got to go compete’.”

In every team, there is often a word or phrase or signal that helps boost morale and keeps the team unified. For the men’s basketball team, this year it was the phrase “buy in.”

Two basketball players, one from each team, head to the basket. The UCC player jumps up to score.
The average points that the RiverHawks Men’s Basketball team scored through the 2023-24 season was 81.1 points. This season, there were 28 games the team competed in. Photo provided by Lindsay Leeworthy

“‘Buy in’ means that you’re dialed in to what we are doing. Our offensive and defensive systems, practicing harder, making sure we are doing the right things on and off the court,” Leeworthy said. “Some players get distracted with other things going on, and I think accountability as well as practice and leadership is stepping up. I thought our team captains did a pretty good job stepping up and holding people more accountable in practice if they were maybe practicing lazy or something like that.”

Leeworthy preached “buy in” throughout the season. Creighton Hansen, a freshman forward, explained: “[This] was something that took us a little bit to get going on because in the beginning of the season, I think that everyone was getting familiar with each other. We were trying to get used to one another. Especially not having a head coach at the beginning of the season was a little difficult. It’s hard to rally the troops when you don’t have your ‘leader’ to start a season, with your head coach being gone,” Hansen said. “It took us a moment, but once we finally did ‘buy in’, and I’d say especially right after Christmas time, when conference started, that was a big turning point for our team where we really felt a shift in the energy.”

A team’s relationships between one another can impact success on the court. Leeworthy expressed that maintaining chemistry and team partnerships is harder at a community college due to athletes only being available for two years. Only the occasional student stays for an extra year, becoming an academic sophomore.

“We have a lot of turnover because we lose freshman to four-year schools, we get transfers in for just one year. It is much easier if you are coaching a player for four to five years. You got to have that ‘buy in’ straight away here,” Leeworthy said.

“Our chemistry got really better as the season went on. I think a lot of guys thought they knew better than others on the team or thought that we should be doing something different or, you know, change up the roles on the team,” Leeworthy said. “I think the guys knowing what was expected and what they need to do on the court and what their role was on the court really improved. That chemistry came a long way throughout the season.”

Hansen agreed. “Definitely from the start of the season to the end of the season, there was a massive improvement from everyone on the team”

Bunn said, “I feel like every day at practice, we came with a purpose. We didn’t end the season the way we wanted to, but I feel like we got something out of it, being with each other every day.”

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