Annual tradition kicks of men’s basketball


Alden Glass


Illustration by Asa Mease.

As the clock stuck midnight and the date changed to October 15, the Whitman men’s basketball team was in the gym running drills and preparing for the new season. While many Whitman students were sound asleep or finishing up a paper in the library, the team gathered in the Sherwood Athletic Center to hand out gear and start practice. This midnight practice serves as the team’s official kickoff of the 2015-16 season. Coach Eric Bridgeland explained this peculiar practice and how it helps the team’s goals.

“For us, as we’ve got seven freshmen and nine returners, we hand out the gear and walk through how practice is going to be for the new guys. We have a dry practice with no contact,” said Bridgeland. “In past years, we’ve had a bottle of sparkling water that we sprayed around and visualized winning the champ. This year the objective was to get the freshmen used to how practices will be structured. It’s a can’t-miss.”

Senior Tochi Oti explained how this midnight practice really demonstrates the team’s values of cooperation and hard work.

“We usually have it every year at the start of the season, because October 15 is usually the start date for basketball, so we start literally as soon as we can,” Oti said. “It speaks to our culture about hard work and trying to get a step up on the competition by doing things other teams would not do in order to make our team successful.”

Another one of the team’s yearly traditions is a boot camp put on by Lieutenant Colonel Jason Smith. Smith and Bridgeland met a number of years ago and came up with a yearly fall camp to get the team ready for the season. Senior Philip Chircu discussed what it means to him to have the Lt. Col. come and lead this camp every year.

“He [Smith] takes us through boot camp where you do swimming with a brick over your head or a huge run carrying each other and sacks of sand. Basically just military-style training that is really tough, but definitely brings us together as a unit,” Chircu said. “It’s usually competitive where we break up into a few teams and compete against each other. I look forward to it every year. We’re lucky to have it. It’s amazing to have him give us some of his perspective.”

Traditions like the midnight practice and the boot camp are vital pieces in building a team spirit before the season gets under way. With seven new members on the team, building a solid foundation will be vital to the team’s success. With a high-flying full court press, the team’s depth becomes very important. The first-years will need to be ready to step up and fill in those rotational spots. Chircu talked about how the first-years have adapted to the system so far.

“The big part of it this year is having seven first-years. They’ve been so good at working through stuff. They’ve been listening, absorbing, and putting stuff in action which is great to see. They’ve come a lot further in a week than I thought they could,” Chircu said.

Coach Bridgeland talked about the team’s efforts to build a coherent unit.

“In the preseason, whenever you have a bunch of upperclassmen and a bunch of new guys, there could be a disconnect. So we really focused on getting together, whether it was for pizza or bowling, we did a lot of that kind of thing early,” Bridgeland said. “I don’t think we’ve ever been closer. We had a big brother-little brother deal, and it’s safe to say our program has never been closer.”

With the first-years being integrated into the team and conference play looming, the team is hungry for success. Coach Bridgeland shared a lot of his player’s confidence when looking at the future and explained how the coaching staff can help achieve the success the team wants.

“We’re trying to get better right now. We’re going to fail a lot, so how can we learn from every failure and get better,” Bridgeland said. “I think the team has their own destination for where they want to go, for us as a staff, we trying to get this group to play the best they possibly can come late February or March.”

Oti added his own personal aspirations for the team this year and showed his selfless attitude that is a staple in the Whitman team culture.

“Well, ever since I’ve been here, we’ve gotten second place. It’d be nice to get over that hump, and I’m sure everyone else feels that way. I think I’ve learned over the years that it’s about the process and not the end result. If we come to practice every day willing to work hard and willing to give it our all when we’re at practice, things will fall into place,” he said. “I think that’s a big goal for us this year: having constant energy at practice and making sure we squeeze out every ounce we can get. Individually, I honestly don’t care if I’m the best player or cheering my team on from the bench. Winning is a collective thing. As long as we rally together, I’ll be more than satisfied”.