Wabash Enters 2021-22 Season with High Expectations

Tyler Watson ’22 drives to the basket. Watson is one of many experienced upperclassmen returning to the roster that are poised to deliver Wabash a historic season.

On February 25, 2020, the Wabash basketball team was bounced from the first round of the North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) Tournament. The unexpected 75-69 loss came at the hands of the Denison Big Red, who the Little Giants had beaten twice throughout the regular season by a combined 33 points. Just a handful of days later, college campuses across the country shut down and students were fully virtual due to the pandemic.

The team managed to play amid this environment and successfully had a 2020-21 season. Yet, Wabash played less than half of its normal game load, with the schedule remaining fluid the entire season. The Little Giants had multiple games against the same schools and most games occurred in the absence of fans. Wabash finished 6-6, and the NCAC did not host any postseason tournament or competitions. But the 2021-22 season is now a week away. And after two straight seasons of ups, downs, and unexpected endings, this season’s Little Giants look to leave their mark in the Wabash history books.

“I think like everything else, the last 18 months have taught most of us that your opportunities aren’t guaranteed, and you need to appreciate them and take advantage of ‘em,” Head Coach Kyle Brumett said. “I think […] the way we ended the 19-20 season was disappointing. […] Finishing the way we did left a bad taste and then, you know, it was only a week, maybe two weeks after that loss that everything else changed. […] So I think we’re anxious and excited. But we’ve got the best, most experienced team we’ve had since I’ve been here. So you know, I think we’re excited to get started. We’re just anxious about how all the pieces are gonna fit together.”

Wabash brings back a talented group of upperclassmen with a plethora of experience. This includes the return of one of Division III’s best players in Jack Davidson ’22, who was not with the team last season during the events of the pandemic. Mixed with the upperclassmen is a group of extremely skilled underclassmen who give the 2021-22 team an abundance of depth. “Our freshman class is as talented as any that we’ve had previously,” Brumett said. “They’re deep, they play different positions. They’re really skilled. And with that being said, a lot of them are not going to play right away. We’ve really been building towards that. I mean, if you look at the guys that are seniors, you know, Davidson would have been a senior last year, and then [Tyler] Watson [’22] and [Kellen] Schreiber [’22], that class of guys. Those guys all had to play a lot as freshmen. Regardless of if they played well, regardless of whether or not we won. It was just where the program was at the time. And you know, we’ve really grown in that way. So, I mean, I think our older guys are going to carry most of the responsibility which, in theory, takes a lot of pressure off of the younger guys.”

“I think last year, you know, you have guys like Reis Thomas [’23] and Ahmoni Jones [’23] that continued to kind of grow into regular roles,” Brumett continued. “And I think you’re going to continue to see that the seniors are going to have, you know, targets on their back. But they’re all very capable of producing at that level. Regardless of that, yeah. You know, I think three of our seniors, [Davidson, Watson, and Schreiber], are All-American type players. So, one of the big things that we’re trying to focus on is how they fit together and how to best put them in positions to maximize their talent and give them each opportunities to play to their strengths. […] I mean, we probably will play, you know, somewhere between eight and 10 guys in our regular rotation, but we really are very deep. We’ve got 20 guys on our roster and almost all of them are competing for some type of opportunity.”

The talent level entering this season has Wabash poised to compete for its first NCAC regular-season title. The Little Giants finished second in the NCAC standings during the 2019-2020 season. When reflecting on the competition within the conference, Brumett laid out his expectations for the season: “[An NCAC championship] is definitely our goal,” he said. “We think we’re talented enough to do that. I mean, we finished second [in 19-20] and a lot of those guys that helped us lay that foundation are still here. So I feel like that’s an unfinished job. […] We set the schedule up in a way that we wanted to find out how we would fare against some nationally-ranked teams. So we’re going to find that out fairly quickly. But you know, I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say that with the senior class that we have and the depth of talent that we have, we don’t look at ourselves as a top-25 or an NCAA tournament team. It’s just hard to get there, and we’re trying to really push ourselves and and have high expectations for ourselves, but you got to be careful not put the cart before the horse.”

The schedule certainly reflects Brumett’s comments. Wabash opens the season against perennial Division III contender Centre College. Less than two weeks later, the team will partake in the Great Lakes Invitational in Ohio, which features multiple top-15 programs. Wabash faces preseason No. 3-ranked Marietta College on November 19 and preseason No. 13-ranked Emory University a day later. Conference foe Wittenberg University, who Wabash plays on December 11 and January 26, sits at a preseason ranking of No. 22.

Jack Davidson ’22 attempts a shot over a defender. Davidson is an elite player that will look to add to a list of accolades, including an All-American season in 2018-19.

Wabash matches up against Centre College in Danville, Kentucky on November 6 to open up the regular season. Though, prior to that matchup, the Little Giants will get their first taste of action tomorrow at home. Wabash faces Illinois-Wesleyan, who is ranked No. 4 in the preseason poll, in a double-game scrimmage beginning at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. While the event is not a regular-season matchup, the Little Giants will be on display fine-tuning the start of a hopeful year.

“Our players are young and hard-working and competitive guys and they’re excited,” Brumett said. “It’s a great opportunity to kind of see where we stack up. […] We’ve been building this thing to be able to compete nationally, and we’re gonna see if we’re able to do that.”

All-in-all, the Little Giants return to a Wabash community ready to fill the bleachers of Chadwick Court. The fans are one of the biggest aspects of Wabash sports. With the potential of the 2021-22 Little Giant basketball team, the home games are sure to be an incredible experience (unless you are a visiting team). Regardless of the end result, the talent level for the Wabash basketball team combined with an extremely competitive schedule will provide for one hell of a ride this season.