By Hannah Lutz, Staff Writer
Nine new players have joined the Bulldog basketball team this season, including five freshman and four transfers. With the new players the team has retooled for 2011-2012 season.
“When you have as many new players as we do, the learning curve takes longer; everything we do is new to most of the players,” said David Niven, men’s basketball head coach.
AJ Roberts, junior physical education major, is a transfer from Niagara (N.Y.) County Community College.
He earned the Team MVP award both seasons at Niagara. Roberts transferred to play for Union because he liked the campus and the coaches.
“Coach Niven is straight-forward and players have a lot of respect for him on and off the court,” Roberts said. “He is a great coach and the players are close to him; it makes me feel like I have a second family here. ”
Because of the large number of new players, the men have been working on building relationships to better their team chemistry.
“There is an element of self-motivation among the men. I think they build and feed off one another to get their motivation,” Niven said. “Working hard is a characteristic of this basketball team.”
Leventrice Gray, senior physical education major, transferred to Union from Jacksonville (Ala.) State University. He transferred because he liked the fast-paced coaching style of coach Niven.
“Being most of the team’s first year playing together, it is abnormal how close the team is,” Gray said. “As far as working out and conditioning, you would think the team would have been together for years.”
Union students can expect to see a fast defense during games. By recruiting players who are fast, Niven expects the speed of the players to transfer out on the court during games.
“It is going to be hard for teams to cover us,” Roberts said. “Each player on our team is capable of being the top scorer.”
Niven emphasized that the team’s expectations have increased. The men are focused on being more engaged in the student body.
“We go to events and want to be more involved in the community projects and other things people are doing on campus,” Niven said. “We have a group of men who will represent Union well; they will play hard and unselfishly for Union.”
The first goal for the team is to win the TranSouth conference title and then go to the national tournament.
Four seniors are on this year’s team — two returning players and two transfers.
“Expectations are high for the seniors,” Niven said. “We expect them to play a larger role on the team and have higher responsibilities on the court. I also like our freshmen; there will be freshmen who play a lot of minutes this season, which is not always the case in college basketball.”
The Bulldogs open their 2011-2012 season on Oct. 31 in Conway, Ark., against Central Baptist College.