Year one of the Brian Burg era may have to go down as an incomplete.
It would be tough to grade the first-year head coach based on record alone as the Eagle basketball team did manage a 13-13 record and 7-9 conference mark despite fielding almost an entirely new team from the previous year, and having to deal with a pandemic which limited vital practice time in the preseason.
“I have had a lot of people tell me this is year two, but it really feels like year one,” said Burg. “There is more normalcy now as students are in real classes and we got an uninterrupted off season to be together without the restrictions from a year ago. We were recruiting by zoom and now we have more consistency and are able to do so much more that will pay off for us.”
Rising stars emerged throughout the season including junior Elijah McCadden who averaged 10 points and five rebounds per game as a sophomore.
“Last year was so hard having to deal with COVID the whole season and now it feels like things are finally back to normal,” said McCadden. “Last year we were a good defensive team but I feel like we have gotten even better. I think we have a lot more chemistry on both ends of the floor this year and I think we have greatly improved.”
After playing his first two seasons on the wing McCadden is expected to be the Eagles starting point guard this season.
“I feel like I have to be a lot more vocal on the floor as point guard this year,” said McCadden. “The players look to me to know what is going on, on offense and I am ready to lead. I need to be able to help my teammates keep their composure whether that is calling a play or keeping them in motion. I worked a lot in the off season on dribbling with both hands and I think my size will cause matchup problems.”
The transition from Division ll Flagler College was a little more difficult than expected for senior Gedi Juozapaitis who still managed 7.9 points per game after missing the first seven games of the season with an injury.
“Last year COVID restricted the time we could spend together and that really hurt us,” said Juozapaitis. “This year we got to play with each other over the summer and really built team chemistry. The standard is so much higher here than it was in Division ll and I have really put in a lot of work in the weight room getting stronger and I am more confident and excited about getting the season underway.”
This time around Burg feels having a full off season under their belts and some continuity with their roster, including nine letter winners returning, should pay off for the Eagles this season. Among the returning players expected to start are Kaden Archie (7.8 ppg), McCadden, Andrei Savrasov (4.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg), Juozapaitis and Prince Toyambi (5.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg).
“We have consistency and discipline and guys executing on a day-to-day basis along with accountability is why we are getting better each day,” said Burg. “I feel we have a solid defense and defense travels. We have 16 road games and we are going to have a defensive identity. Offensively we like to give our players a lot of freedom we have a talented group and that scheme has been implemented over the summer too.”
Burg doesn’t shy away from the goals he has set for his team.
“We are competing for championships,” said Burg. “There is more familiarity with nine players returning and knowing schemes on offense as well as defense. We also have five talented newcomers coming on board which I am excited about. They have made a great transition this summer as well as our preseason, and our best basketball is going to be displayed throughout the season.”
Among the newcomers expected to make an impact are 6-11 transfer Carlos Curry from Northwest Mississippi Community College, 6-3 freshman guard Mannie Harris and 6-0 senior guard Tre Cobbs who is a sixth-year player out of Kentucky Wesleyan.
The Eagles open the 2021-22 season Tuesday night at Hanner Fieldhouse as they host Ball State at 7:00.