Following the lowest win total in a season since the 1964-65 campaign, the Defiance College roundballers are looking to get back on track with another youthful roster.
DC lost its final 18 games last year, the longest in program history, surpassing a 10-game losing skid in 1932-33. Defiance’s last win was on Dec. 9, 2017.
“You have about as tough of a season as you can have, in a lot of different ways,” said leadman Scott Cutter entering his fourth year at DC after the 3-22 campaign. “Certainly wins and losses, but some things that happened to get us to where the amount of games we won last year.
“I certainly know we’ve grown as a coaching staff,” added Cutter. “I’ve learned some things about myself and how to run the program. Then I also think our guys learned some things, and also, found out some guys who are truly on board with the program. Those are the guys back this year with two feet in. A tough season is an easy time to bail and we had some guys that didn’t bail. On top of that, some of those guys are really good players. It’s something to build on for our program.”
Cutter’s crew remains young with only one senior on the roster and one junior.
However, some key pieces return, including 6-6, 220-pound sophomore Demoines Whitney, who posted 9.5 ppg and 4.7 rebounds per outing as a rookie.
Junior Jordan Maschino earned plenty of playing time last winter thanks to his all-out effort. He scored 5.3 ppg and grabbed 4.8 rpg.
“He plays as hard as you can play the game of basketball,” said Cutter. “He’s one of the best rebounders in our league, he’s in that conversation. He’s an unbelievable rebounder.
“When you have an older guy that plays that hard, you can get other guys to play that hard with him,” continued Cutter. “I think he’s really developed into a player and is going to have a great year.”
Noah Goodrich, the team’s only senior, is a three-point specialist and averaged 4 ppg.
Perhaps the biggest piece back is sophomore guard Davontae Kinnie, who started the first seven games of last season before missing the rest of the campaign. He was leading the team with 14.3 ppg, 5.3 helpers per game and 2.7 steals per game.
“He came out of the gates on fire last year,” said Cutter. “He was leading our conference in both assists and steals before grades came around. I expect big things from him, he’s a really good player. First thing you’re going to get is your whole team’s energy level is going to be higher with him out there. He plays at such a high level energy wise. He gives you the ability to make a play when the play breaks down. I think good teams have a guy like that on their team. He’s that guy for us.”
“The big thing for us is you can’t spend anymore time with our guys than we do academically,” added Cutter. “We’re with them every single day. Our team GPA went through the roof on mid-terms from last year. We’re over a 3.0 as a team, which is awesome for us. For me, it’s something I’m more proud of than what we do on the court because I know my guys are maturing. We brought in a great group of freshmen talent wise and academically. They’re doing great in the classroom. In the big picture, we’re trying to turn these guys loose as good 22-year-olds afterwards. I think we’re making progress in that area, which I think will lead to success on the court.”
The Jackets will have some production to fill, including Kiewuan Graham’s 12 ppg. Graham did not return to the program this year along with would-be seniors Allante Wheeler (7.8 ppg, team-best 6 rpg, 22 starts), Randall Aikins Jr. (8.9 ppg, six starts), Avion Franklin (7.4 ppg, 15 starts). Others that started a year ago that did not return this season are: Elijah Pennington (4 ppg, 12 starts), Dakota Barkley (2.5 ppg, four starts), Connor Custenborder (one start) and Jovan Thomason (one start).
Opponents shot a blistering 51.6 percent against Defiance, which resulted in foes outscoring the Jackets by an average of 81.1-66.4 per game.
“There’s a lot of time for minutes right now,” said Cutter. “That could change throughout the course of the season. I think a lot of guys are close. There are guys that aren’t ready to be on the court today, but that could change in two weeks or a month from now. I think we can have some depth with our freshmen class.”
With just two players in the upper two grades, there are plenty of opportunities for the newcomers to earn playing time.
Cutter and his staff brought in 10 freshmen that are vying for time.
“It’s a mature group for freshmen,” remarked Cutter. “They’re knocking it out of the park in the classroom, 4.0s at midterms. You don’t normally get that from freshmen. I think we have some guys that won’t look like freshmen when playing.”
Meanwhile, the returnees are adamant about bringing success back to the program.
“I hear it from them on a daily basis, our guys want to get Defiance basketball back to what the expectation is,” said Cutter. “That’s coming from my guys to each other. It makes you feel good; it means something to them.”
The Jackets open the regular season at Adrian College on Saturday night at 7 p.m. The Bulldogs are expected to contend for the MIAA championship with a veteran roster.
Defiance then visits Ohio Northern University and NCAA Division III National Player of the Year candidate Ryan Bruns (Marion Local) on Monday.
DC will also play an exhibition against Defiance High School graduate Greg Kampe and his Oakland Grizzlies on Nov. 19 in Rochester Hills, Mich.
The Jackets will then play their first home game on Dec. 1 with defending HCAC champion Rose-Hulman visiting for the conference opener.