Men’s basketball focuses on National DIII Championship

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With winter break only two weeks away, Whitman’s men’s basketball is just beginning the league portion of its season. With two battles against George Fox and Lewis & Clark on Dec. 2 and 3, another opportunity began for the Missionaries to achieve their ultimate goal: March, and making the National Championship.

Credit: Marin Axtell

“March is the whole point of pretty much any level of basketball,” said junior forward Ryan Gilkey. “Everyone’s season ends in February, but playoffs [and the National Tournament] are in March. In the past thirty years Whitman hasn’t been: and we didn’t even have a winning record since last year, so it’s another reminder. You go in each game with the goal of winning, but then you stack up all those games, and the whole goal is making it to March.”

In order to get the National Championship, the team has to first put in a whole season’s worth of work, including staying on campus during winter break. When everyone else takes the month off of school, both of Whitman’s basketball teams are on campus: not writing papers or reading textbooks, but hitting the hardwood in the gym and on the court.

“You wake up, go to practice, maybe a film session, weights, then practice in the afternoon. Mentally it’s a lot less stressful because you can take your time with everything outside of practice and then focus on being there,” said Gilkey.

“On campus, we still have [our teammates], but going outside, it’s kind of a shock. One, it’s like four degrees out, and two, there’s no one around. We only get four or five days off for break, so it’s like a rush to make sure to see your friends and family, but [being with the team on campus] brings us together more,” said sophomore guard Jordon Dickson.

The culture of Whitman men’s basketball is one of hard work and determination, as evidenced by their epic win at the buzzer against Lewis & Clark this past Saturday night, and it is a culture they cultivate with the new members they bring to the team.

“We demand out of [the freshmen] that they bring it every practice,” said Assistant Coach and 2011 alumnus Justin Artis. “When they come in and see us diving after every ball, it really sets the tone.”

But a winning culture is built upon a strong foundation, one which Men’s Basketball works hard to foster over the month they have together away from schoolwork.

Credit: Marin Axtell

“[Winter Break is] honestly my favorite part of the year because we get to play lots of basketball, and I’m still spending time with my brothers,” said senior forward David Michaels.

“Every year we have practice on Superbowl Sunday, and then we watch the Superbowl over at Coach’s house as a team. It’s nice to utilize that time to connect right before season kicks in,” said Gilkey.

After this weekend’s first in-conference games, men’s basketball is keeping its sights set on the season ahead.

“We were disappointed with dropping the first one to George Fox, but it was great to come back against Lewis & Clark,” said junior guard Peter Clark. “We just need to keep getting better throughout the break and keep finding ways to win.”

“Our games [this weekend] showed us a lot about where we are right now and what we need to improve before we resume NWC play in January. We did some good things, especially on Saturday night, bouncing back from a tough loss, but our team understands that we have a lot of work still ahead of us to get to where we want to be at the end of the year,” said Assistant Coach Matt Airy.

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