Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Heart over height: Men’s basketball ready for challenging season

Arthur Mansavage
Sophomore guard Brendan McNamara shoots over a Babson defender in the 2023 NEWMAC Semifinals

The Emerson men’s basketball team officially began practicing this week, with a mix of new and returning players all ready to make an impact when the season opens on Nov. 10.

This year’s team has a tall task ahead of them. Last year’s squad finished 16-10 overall, including a program record 11 wins in the NEWMAC. They were also spearheaded by five seniors and three graduate students—most of whom have moved on.

Associate Head Coach Sean Coman said that the team’s identity will revolve around competitiveness and cohesiveness.

“We’re going to have to rely a lot upon being tough and competitive, and being all in together on the same page,” he said. “That’s our identity: [being] together and one unit working for the same goal.”

Senior guard Declan Bretz believes the team’s identity begins in the defensive end.

“We’re going to get really scrappy, get up on people [and] make them uncomfortable,” he said. “Offensively, we’re going to have to work and get shots together. [There’s] so many new faces, so we’re going to have to work and trust each other and get open shots and play unselfish.”

Bretz said that defense has been a priority in recent practices.

“We’re really working on everyone being able to guard 1-5,” he said. “The biggest thing is, it’s not ‘I got ball,’ but ‘We got ball.’”

Among the notable graduates are Jarred Houston and Nate Martin, two of the team’s leaders and members of the 2019 NEWMAC Championship roster. This year’s group is led by seniors Declan Bretz and Trevor Arico, but Coman noted that the leadership will fall on everyone, including sophomores Brendan McNamara and Asher Gardiner.

“They know what it takes to win and how hard it is to win and prepare,” he said. “[They’ll be] using their experiences of what they saw and trying to pass it onto the new guys, and propel that learning curve as much as they can.”

Bretz faces the new challenge with optimism.

“Any way you put it, it’s going to be a hard challenge, but that also makes it something easy to rally on,” Bretz said. “We have a lot of guys that want to step up, and it’s an opportunity to do that and lead.” 

“It’s a different culture where we’re hungry to step up,” he continued. “Last year, we had the identity that we were good and knew that we were good, but this year, it’s on us, and we’re hungry to show that.”

With such turnover comes expected doubts—both around the NEWMAC and within Emerson’s walls. However, Bretz notes it only motivates the team more.

“At the end of the day, Emerson Basketball has always been about finding a way,” he said. “It’s honestly a part of our identity, and we love it. Our backs are always going to be against the wall.”

“We shouldn’t look too hard into that,” Gardiner said. “We should just work on gelling together this year, and keep on getting better throughout the year so we’re a powerhouse in the league for years to come.”

Along with the team’s decrease in terms of height—from 6’10” alum Jarred Houston to the 6’7” Gardiner—they have also decreased in terms of players, going from 16 to 13.

Coman said the team’s conditioning and versatility will be key in taking advantage of their depth.

“We’re going to have to be in really good shape,” he said. “We’re going to have to play a few different ways—fast, slow, man, zone—and utilize the bodies we do have and find minutes for a lot of these guys to buy some time for other people.”

“It’s going to have to be a group effort,” he continued. “You don’t know when your number’s going to be called, but it definitely could be any day that we’re gonna need you for that particular day or practice. Everyone’s going to have a magnified role with [fewer] players.”

Gardiner believes that shooting is a key component heading into the season.

“[One thing we need to work on] is finding the spots that we can make our ‘kill zones’ and make extra shots,” Gardiner said. “We catch the ball a bit too far off these spots, and if we make better cuts and better reads, we’ll be in a better position to make more shots.”

The team’s play style has also adapted, with an emphasis on speed.

“We can get up the floor a little faster,” Coman said. “Asher’s our biggest guy but also our fastest guy. He’ll be able to beat a lot of the other bigs down the floor, which is an advantage for us. We have some guards who can make some plays, get in the paint and create some havoc. The more we can get out in transition, and the more we can push the pace, it’s going to help us.”

As for Gardiner, he has numerous laudable goals heading into the season.

“I look to be a good double-double guy, follow the footsteps of the bigs that came before me, and hold up the legacy of Emerson College Basketball,” he said.

Coman commended the team’s camaraderie, which can be difficult to maintain given the recent turnover.

“They’ve embraced the new guys, they’ve set the standard,” he said. “I’m impressed with how together of a group they’ve turned into quickly, and [I’m] excited to see how they grow as a unit and what they put forth.”

He also noted the team’s communication and maturity as necessary improvements before the season opens.

The men’s basketball team also has three first-year players—Shay Roban, Guillermo Gasset Ruiz and Blake Bailey—and three graduate transfers—Allen Li, Jerry Lawson and Sam Ndu. All of them had made good impressions on the coaching staff.

“My message to them is, ‘Just as much as you guys are new and need to learn the ropes, you need to leave your own stamp on the team as well’,” Coman said. “Figure out what your role is and maximize it. Do whatever it takes for us to win some games.”

Gasset Ruiz said that starting at Emerson was a difficult but exciting process. He’s also received plenty of reassurance from the coaching staff and veterans.

“As a freshman, you sometimes get worried, but they tell me to play the way I’ve always played, because that’s why they recruited me,” he said. “It’s been very helpful to play without stress. Other than that, it’s mostly where to be on the court [and] how I have to react. At the end of the day, it’s just basketball, and we’ve all been playing for our entire lives.”

Having played for ART Giants Dusseldorf in Germany, Gasset Ruiz noted that European basketball was focused on sets.

“Right now, we have one motion, but it’s all free-flowing,” he said. “It’s not always passing to a point guard and setting it up. You just play off each other and react to how the defense is playing. It’s a lot faster and a lot more physical—I’m 19 and playing against people who are 23, 24.”

As far as notable matchups, Bretz singled out the entirety of the team’s NEWMAC opponents as games circled on his calendar. The team is motivated after their semifinal loss to Babson in February, and the players are hungry for their first conference title in five years.

“We’re playing for the NEWMAC at the end of the day,” he said. “We want to show that if we get in that tournament, anything can happen. Every game in the NEWMAC is very special to us, and that’s what our preseason is preparing us for. We have some games coming up in November and December, but it’s really about, what are we going to look like for NEWMAC play.”

“I’m really looking forward to playing Springfield, because that’s another school that was recruiting me,” Gasset Ruiz said. “Also Babson and WPI, because those are the big teams in the conference.”

As a freshman, Gasset Ruiz is looking forward to the atmosphere within the Brown-Plofker Gym.

“I’ve never had more than 200 people show up to a game in Europe,” he said. “I’m really excited to see the atmosphere of a college coming out to see their team play. We’re going to be able to win some games, and it’s going to be a fun season.”

Coman and Bretz said fans can expect high-energy play every game.

“We might be undersized, but we’re going to compete, compete, compete, and hopefully surprise some people when it’s all said and done,” Coman said.

“I’m really excited for this group and their opportunity. The year ahead is going to be one that we hopefully all enjoy and can remember for a long time,” he added.

“We have a lot of belief in each other, we have a lot of guys that want to play for each other,” Bretz said. “We’re going to do everything we can to show we belong. At the end of the day, it’s about us—that’s all we’re going to focus on. We’re not going to get caught up in the noise. We’re going to focus on the core 13 that we got, including our coaches. Those are the only opinions that matter, and we’re going to run from there.”

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About the Contributor
Jordan Pagkalinawan, Kasteel Well Bureau Chief
Jordan Pagkalinawan (he/him) hails from Burbank, California, and serves as The Beacon’s Kasteel Well Bureau Chief. A sophomore journalism student with a minor in Sports Communication, he was the sports editor for the Fall 2023 semester and a sports staff writer for most of his first year. Overseeing The Beacon’s operations in the Netherlands, Jordan is committed to elevating high-quality pieces of narrative and multimedia journalism. When he isn’t working for the Beacon, Jordan can be found listening to various genres of music, playing, watching, and writing about basketball, and exploring local bookstores and cafes.
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