After an early exit from last year’s NCAA tournament, Queens men’s basketball has its sights set on nothing less than the grand prize.
“Unfinished business” was the term that rang around the gym on media day, as coaches and players lined up to perform an open practice and conduct interviews for the press. The phrase was first used by guard Mike Davis, a senior, in one of their practices.
In the 2016-17 NCAA Men’s Basketball Division II season, Queens posted an impressive 30-4 record, cruising into a one seed in the Southeast Regionals of the NCAA tournament. They were knocked out of the competition in the Sweet 16 by conference rival Lincoln Memorial. This year, they enter the preseason ranked second in the country.
In reference to the sky high expectations placed on the team, Head Coach Bart Lundy commented, “The expectations are just another test, and these guys, they have fun with it.”
Lundy is entering his 16th season coaching and his 10th season as the head coach of Queens men’s basketball, and holds an overall record of 200-77 with the team. “Getting the program to this point has been a process, as it always is,” he said. “I’m hoping this is a yearly trend and not a blip on the screen.”
“Last year we felt like we should have went to the championship,” said senior guard/forward Todd Withers. “We got knocked out of the Sweet 16 because we didn’t finish business.”
Four of their starters from last year return, including Withers. He is joined by Davis, guard Jalin Alexander, a preseason All-American selection, and guard Ike Agusi, who was named to the SAC Conference All-Tournament Team. In all, seven players are returning.
The returners will have the difficult task of replacing Daniel Camps, who graduated last spring. He led the team in points per game and was second in rebounds per game last season. “Camps gave us energy and an explosiveness off the bounce that we’ve got to find a way to replicate,” said Lundy. Camp’s spot in the starting lineup will be taken by junior transfer Lewis Diankulu, though Lundy also pointed to junior Shaun Willett to try and fill in some of the gaps.
The players exhibited confidence in their aspirations to perform well this year. “Most teams have to get used to jelling again, and we already have that,” said Agusi. Withers praised the coaches for keeping the team focused. “They really help us out when it comes to not being cocky and not going in there with a chip on our shoulder,” he said.
Queens opened its season on November 3 with an exhibition game against Wake Forest University, a Division I team. The Royals were narrowly edged, 76-74, exuding a promising performance that included 20 forced turnovers and making 36 percent of their three pointers. An area of concern from that night was free throw shooting, as Queens was only able to convert 68 percent of their opportunities. Withers led the team with 16 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks.
The Royals are entering the season hungry to win it all, and with such a high ranking, the prospect of doing so does seem feasible. However, being the number two team in the nation also places a large target on their back, so they will have to be careful to keep the intensity high and not get too overconfident.
The players only have the team and their unfinished business on their minds. When asked about his personal legacy, Davis instead summed up everyone’s hopes for this year pretty well.
“I just want to be remembered as a winner.”
Photograph: Queens senior Todd Withers at an exhibition game at Wake Forest. Image credit: Queens Athletics