Following a 21-9 record (.700) last season, the Slippery Rock University men’s basketball team enters the season picked second in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) West Division behind school rival Indiana University (Pa.).
Acting head coach Ian Grady said he agreed with where his team was placed in the preseason rankings.
“It’s definitely one of the higher picks we have been in the preseason,” Grady said. “We need to understand that we can’t be satisfied. That’s just a preseason ranking so we need to get out there and accomplish it out on the court.”
Heading into the final week before the start of the season, The Rock saw their head coach, Kevin Reynolds, placed on administrative leave by SRU athletic director Paul Lueken. Reynolds had been the head coach of the men since the 2008-2009 season and has been one of the most successful coaches in the PSAC since. He has compiled an overall record of 188-109 (.633) during his time at The Rock.
No official explanation by Lueken or the University has been made due to a school policy of not commenting on issues dealing with SRU personnel. Grady, Reynolds’ assistant coach, has been named the acting head coach during Reynolds’ absence and is expected to lead the team until further notice. Although there is no confirmation on Reynolds’ status, a source close to the team said his office in the Morrow Field House was in the process of being cleared out.
In addition to the coaching change, The Rock has also seen a drastic change to their roster. Redshirt junior Micah Till remains the only player on the team that was on the roster last year. Till said that although it’s odd, he is embracing being the only returner on the team.
“I see myself as a leader,” Till said. “Last year I was a transfer myself, so I am able to take what I learned from last season and to offer it up as advice to the other guys.”
In his first season with The Rock, Till put up impressive numbers, finishing third in the PSAC in total points score with 640 and averaged 21.3 points per game, which was good for fifth in the conference. His rookie season at The Rock saw him as a four-time winner of the PSAC West Athlete of the Week as well as earning an All-American Distinction from the Division II CCA.
Grady acknowledged that the number of new faces on the team this year might cause some people to become skeptic of the team.
“We’re obviously expecting big things from Micah this year,” Grady said. “Some don’t realize that we have Vinny Lasley returning this year from injury so we’re hoping for a strong senior season from him. We have a strong freshmen class, in addition to a number of talented transfers, headlined by senior John Warren.”
John Warren II, a six-foot-six guard from Hopkins, Minnesota, played two full seasons for Augustana University in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He sat out last season for an undisclosed reason. He is expected to have a significant impact on the team, Grady said.
Lasley missed all of last season with a leg injury but should be ready to go this season, Grady said. During the 2016-2017 season, Lasley recorded 132 points, going 55 for 139 from the field (39.6%), with 145 rebounds in 28 games played.
Defensively, The Rock finished the 2017-2018 campaign 11th in the PSAC, giving up 2,155 points (71.8 per game). Grady said he believes his team will be one of the top defensive teams in the PSAC this season.
“Over the years, we have been one of the more solid defensive teams in the conference,” Grady said. “Our guys have the height, so the biggest thing we have to work on is communication.”
Grady said the biggest challenge his team is going to face, particularly in the beginning of the season, will be trying to understand each other while also getting on the same page.
“On the court, our goal is to be efficient,” Grady said. “We have a lot of talent on this team so now we’re focused on being a consistent team.”
Grady said that with where the team is at, he won’t be changing the coaching style the players were used to seeing from Reynolds.
“I am not going to change much this far along,” Grady said. “I want the guys to work hard, have fun, and represent the university in a first-class manner.”
Grady said that the NCAA Tournament bid begins Friday, despite conference play not starting for just under a month.
“All the games count so we need to make sure we are giving 100% of what we have out there and focus on getting better each time we go out on the court,” Grady said.
At the moment, Grady said he is unsure with who the starting five will be for Friday’s season opener.
The Rock’s 2018-2019 campaign begins on Friday as they take on Notre Dame College (OH.) as part of the Joe Retton Classic at Fairmont State University. Tipoff is scheduled for 6:00 p.m.