This season, the Ursinus College men’s basketball team opens the season ranked fourth in the Centennial Conference and is looking to continue to surpass the expectations set for them before last season, when they made their first playoff appearance in seven years.
They finished their last season with an overall record of 15-12 (11-7 against Centennial Conference opponents), and won their first playoff game in nine years on the road at Johns Hopkins University on the heels of a 22-point performance by then-junior Zach Quattro.
They were eliminated in the next round by Swarthmore College, who went on to win the conference and who open this season ranked #25 in the Division III national poll.
The Bears do not intend to lose again.
Senior guard Brian Rafferty explained, “As a team, our expectations are to build off last season and go win a championship in February. We realize to do that there is a good chance we have to go through Swarthmore. I know I can speak for the whole team when I say we want another shot at them.”
Senior forward Remi Janicot echoed those sentiments.
Said Janicot, “Our expectations for this season are clear: we want to win the conference. We want to build on what we achieved last year. We want to show the conference and the region what we are made of.”
The Bears are looking to improve upon the number four preseason ranking.
Junior Eric Williams Jr. was second on the team in points per game last season, averaging 12.8 ppg, and shooting 76/180 (42.2 percent) on three-point attempts.
Said Williams Jr., “I always have high expectations for myself [and] the team. I expect the team to be the best in the conference. We are ranked number 4 [in the Centennial Conference preseason rankings] and I believe we can show people we should be number 1. As for myself, I expect to make a leap on both ends of the floor. I want to make sure I continue to help contribute in positive ways on offense and defense.”
Ursinus will have their work cut out for them with the loss of two seniors from last year’s team, including guard Matt Knowles, the Bears’ leading scorer with 16 ppg on 43 percent shooting.
The Bears are ready to step up this season and replace those key players.
Said Janicot, “We lost Patrick [Mekongo], a high energy player that brought a lot of toughness during practices, and Matt Knowles, a first team all-league player. Every year is a new team, but I think we have guys that are ready to step up to the challenge and give us quality playing time. We play team-oriented basketball where we share the ball and score off of each other. So yes we lost two important players, but as a collective I believe we can make that up and be even better than last year.”
“The loss of Matt Knowles and Patrick Mekongo has definitely been felt in terms of talent and leadership but luckily we have a lot of older players who have gained valuable experience in our league. Experience goes a long way in this league,” said co-captain Rafferty.
Junior guard Matt Margolis continued, “With the loss of our leading scorer, we’re really all doing it together. [It has been a replacement] by committee instead of just one guy replacing Knowles. We have a lot of talent.”
Head Coach Kevin Small and assistant coaches Will Furey, Keith Hack, and Justin Klingman are doing all they can to have the squad ready for the season.
Said Rafferty, “Our coaches have worked tirelessly to prepare us and make sure we have all the tools and resources to go compete for a championship. Their dedication to Ursinus Basketball is unmatched and we are extremely lucky to have such an amazing staff.”
Janicot further explained, “The coaches have made pre-season very intense and physically demanding, which will help us outrun teams and win games in February when other teams get tired. Because we now have older guys to rely on, the coaches are also trusting us with an offense that offers a lot of freedom. We were the highest scoring offense in the conference last season, and this season should not be any different if we look at the offensive weapons we have.”
With the coaching staff’s preparation and the dawn of the season upon them, the Bears are excited to get going.
Said Janicot, optimistically, “[Based on our preseason,] I can tell that we are going to be good. We obviously still have a lot of work ahead of us, and there are some really good teams in our conference, but I am excited about our potential. Compared to my three past seasons, this is the best we have looked at this point of the year.”
Co-captain Rafferty expressed the pride he has in this program going into his final season.
Said Rafferty, “As a senior I am most excited to see how the [rebuilding of the team] that started four years ago turns out. My [first] year we started 0-7. Last year we beat Johns Hopkins at Johns Hopkins in a playoff game. This year we want a championship and nothing less. This is probably the most talented roster Ursinus has had in my four years here. I am very excited to see everything we can accomplish as a group this year.”