By Michael Otero
The men’s basketball team is coming off an 18-12 season and Head Coach Erik Smiles is looking to keep the trend going of an uptick in wins per season. Smiles, now in his third year at the helm, has compiled a 52-37 record and has gone 40-29 in conference play during his tenure.
In order to keep that brand of winning strong, Smiles believes it starts with his two All-Conference players: Jared Hall and Greg Dotson. “It really all starts with those guys and they are two great pieces to build off,” Smiles said.
In addition to the Hall and Dotson duo, Smiles is also expecting big contributions from two other players who logged big minutes last season. “Aary Bibens and Hunter Powell…both of those guys need to have big seasons for us to reach our goals.” While Smiles noted that those four players will play big roles, he didn’t underestimate the transfer and freshmen talent he has on his roster.
Getting acclimated takes time and underclassmen might not pick things up as quickly as others. Smiles agreed partly with that, but offered a slightly different outlook. “With all the new guys on the team we have been going a lot slower installing plays and concepts this year,” he said. “But in the end when the lights go on, it’s just basketball and players are players and they will respond.” According to Smiles, Jamal Mosley and Kyle McLeggan are two transfers that “are really going to impact us.”
Under Coach Smiles a season ago, opponents shot just 38 percent from the field. In fact, with Smiles on the sideline, the Pioneers have been the second and third best defensive teams in Division II in terms of field goal percentage the last two seasons. Smiles was very straightforward in explaining his stance in defense, saying, “We take a lot of pride in our defense and we tell our guys if you can’t guard then you can’t play here.”
With a core group of upperclassmen and young, hungry underclassmen with a blend of transfer students all of whom take pride in defense under Coach Smiles, it sounds like a good formula for a run deep into the season. “Our goal is always to win a championship and I think by season’s end we will definitely have a chance to do that,” Smiles said. “I like our program right now and where we are and if we can stay healthy, I think we will have a chance come March.”
The Pioneers’ season begins on Saturday, Nov. 12, against the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia at the Pratt Recreation Center at 2 p.m. In their matchup a year ago, the Pioneers won 71-55 thanks to a great all-around game from Dotson who poured in 17 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and was also a pest on defense with three blocks and steals apiece.