Just a week before they tip off on the road versus Skidmore College, men’s basketball coach Paul Culpo reflected about the season ahead. The last time we saw the Spartans in official action, they fell 83-65 to Thomas in the NAC quarterfinals. That loss snapped a six-year streak in which they had at least made it to the NAC semifinals – all led by Culpo – including a NAC title in the 2011-2012 season.
“It doesn’t really feel like we made the playoffs last year,” Culpo said. “I’m just hoping to get the program back to where it was in its first five years.”
Nine players are returning from last year’s team, including three starters, to help him with that goal. Pavin Parrish, who led last year’s team with 78 assists, is back for his third year. Fellow junior Tondi Mushandu, who averaged 9.1 points and 6.8 rebounds per game last year, is also back. And senior Chad Copeland, who missed all but nine games last season with a knee injury, is returning for a fifth and final year under Culpo.
“He will obviously help the team, but that isn’t why we didn’t have success last year. On the outside, I think that that is the perception, that everything will be fine because he is back. But yes, him being back healthy definitely makes a difference,” he said.
Copeland is psyched to be back on the floor after battling back from injury.
“This year is super important,” he said. “I think I’ve had a lot to prove these last couple years; people have written me off, and my injury last year didn’t help. This year is kind of a new start for me.”
Copeland likes the mix of athletes on this year’s team to.
“While we have a good group of returners, there is an influx of new players as well. This team has clicked better in the preseason than teams in the past have. Hanging out, being more of a family, being together off the court relates to success on the court,” he said.
Two of the new players that Culpo focused on were Ben Mrowka, a freshman from Australia, and Jordan Nelson, a junior transfer from Hudson Valley.
”Obviously, Jordan has won the starting point guard spot, and it would be great for him to reward our faith in him that he is the right guy. That was not a position that was ever really solidified last year. And the ‘Wonder from Down Under’ (Mrowka) has been a pleasant surprise in the preseason and we hope he can continue contributing the way he has in the two scrimmages.”
When asked what would make this team successful this season, sophomore Edmund Fitzgerald said, “We need to be the hardest working team on the court. Just talk on defense and play to win.”
Fitzgerald has been labeled by Culpo as a guy who finished strong last season.
“We are long, and we have pretty decent athletes for our bigger guys. We could end up being a pretty good defensive team if we can get things together. I think we have a different team than last year; last year’s team shot better from the perimeter but last year was also not a good defensive team,” Culpo said.
The Spartans are ranked third in the NAC preseason poll, behind reigning champion Husson and Colby-Sawyer. Their first home game is Nov. 18 versus Curry, after Tuesday’s season opener at Skidmore.