Men face high expectations in 2008-2009 season

Spinnaker

A last-place finish in the Atlantic Sun Conference in 2007 with a 3-26 overall record (1-15 A-Sun) was the worst in the 15-year history of the UNF men’s basketball program.

The Ospreys began formal practice Oct. 17, and despite last year’s poor record, team officials have high expectations for the upcoming season, returning all but five players.

“Although our record didn’t indicate it last year, we had a chance to win a lot more games,” head coach Matt Kilcullen said. “Maturation of our players is our main focus right now. We need to improve on closing out games and hitting the big shots. Sometimes wins don’t come as soon as you want, but we are building for the long haul.”

The team has been picked to finish last in the conference again this season in both the Atlantic Sun Preseason Coaches and Media Polls released the first week of October.

But Kilcullen is using the prediction as a positive for his team and said it will be a good motivational tool moving forward.

One of the reasons for the Ospreys lack of success in recent years has been its level of recruiting, but the team is hoping to draw in more talented athletes with the move to Division I nearing completion, Kilcullen said.

UNF began off-campus recruiting Sept. 9 for the 2008-2009 season, and the coaching staff had until Oct. 5 to finalize roster spots with hopes to improve last year’s performance.

UNF still has one year left in the transition period of moving to a fully vested Division I school, and
recruiting has improved each year of the transition, Kilcullen said.

That’s largely due to the stipulation that teams aren’t able to participate in postseason play until the move is final, said UNF Athletic Director Richard Gropper.

The Ospreys added six newcomers this off-season that will make up the core of a group that will represent UNF when it is eligible for the postseason.

All of the players recruited last year will only have to sit out of the postseason their freshman year, improving the quality of talent UNF can bring in and making it easier for the coaching staff to seal the deal.

“The move has had a huge impact on recruiting,” Gropper said. “These kids dream about playing in the NCAA tournament their whole lives, and we finally offer that to them.”

The change has brought a new mindset to the entire team, said senior guard Cortez Riley.

“It’s really exciting not only for us, but the entire athletic program and university as a whole,” Riley said. “If we make the A-Sun tournament, it will be the first time, and the team will go down in UNF history.”

As with each year, another crucial aspect of a successful season will be keeping all of the players healthy and injury free, Kilcullen said.

The team has spent a lot of time in the off-season working on getting stronger, faster and more disciplined, factors that also typical of teams that remain fairly injury free, Riley said.

“We have been spending a lot of time working on weight training and defense,” he said. “We got pushed around a lot last year. This year we want to be the ones to initiate the contact.”

E-mail Josh Salman at [email protected]