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Men's basketball looks for season of renewal

by Conor O'Neill,
  • The returners from the 2008 men’s basketball team huddle after last Friday’s practice. The team will be led by the four returning seniors this season, which kicks off Nov. 14 against Lipscomb University. Photo by David Wells.

Change has arrived for the Phoenix men's basketball team. It came March 29, 2008 when Matt Matheny was named the new head coach for Elon.

Now Phoenix fans are closing in on the date when they can see that change for themselves. The season officially starts Nov. 14, when the Phoenix travels to Nashville, Tenn., to take on non-conference opponent, the Lipscomb University Bison.

The first thing fans will notice this year is the change of pace the Phoenix will bring to the court.
 "Offensively, we're going to push the ball and try to score early in transition," Matheny said. "In an ideal world, we would score between 35 and 28 seconds on the shot clock."

But the first-year head coach is quick to point out this style of play should not create careless mistakes.

 "If we don't get a good shot in that time, we're not just going to take any shot," Matheny said. "We'll attack and push ... and if we don't, then we'll run a motion style offense."

An uptempo style offense could be just what is needed for a Phoenix team that averaged only 65.8 points per game last season, ninth out of 12 teams in the Southern Conference.

On the defensive end, Matheny said he wants his team to play with  a hard-nosed aggressive style to wear down opponents as games wind down.

To make a smooth transition to Matheny's style from that of former head coach Ernie Nestor, who resigned after last year's season, the players will need to adapt and become comfortable with the new style.

"Because of the (practice) time we had in the spring and the fall, I think they have gotten pretty comfortable with our staff and the way we are going to coach," Matheny said.

Not surprisingly, Matheny is quick to assert the four seniors on the team will be vital to the Phoenix's success. Devan Carter, Adam Constantine, T.J. Douglas and Jon Ogolo will be relied on heavily.

"They've been through the battles in the Southern Conference and nothing's going to surprise them," Matheny said. "It doesn't matter where we go. They've been there, and they will impart that knowledge onto the younger guys."

Not only will the seniors need to guide the team emotionally, they will have to improve their scoring. Gone from last year's team are the two leading scorers, Ola Atoyebi and Brett James. They averaged a combined 27.1 points per game last season.

Improving the team's performance on the road is also a necessary change. While the Phoenix was 8-6 in Alumni Gym, the team had a record of 2-14 on the road.

"When you have senior leadership, those guys will help us overcome any hurdles that we may face," Matheny said.

But the most important aspect for the Phoenix this season is for it to improve throughout the year. Matheny said he wants the team to be playing its best basketball when it matters most — at the end of the season.

"We have put no expectation on number of wins," Matheny said. "What we've said is that we want to play at our best in March."