Men's basketball kicks off season

Wednesday, November 20, 2013 3:45:00 PM

Wolves fans (2)

by Paige Quiñones, '14

It was 11:30 a.m. on Nov. 1 as 63 students loaded up coach buses headed to the University of Minnesota to cheer on Stritch's men’s basketball team as they took on the Big Ten’s Golden Gophers. Heading into the match, the Golden Gophers held a previous season record of 23-15 whereas Stritch was coming off an impressive record of 35-3 which led to their 2013 national title.

During last year's pre-season exhibition game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the Stritch Wolves kept a tight game, but lost 56-70. This season, with the Wolves losing three key offensive players and adding nine players to their overall roster, everyone is excited to see how head coach Drew Diener will put together another winning season. Since Diener’s arrival in 2009, he has distinguished himself as the fastest coach in the CCAC conference to reach 100 wins and establish a winning basketball program.

After the five-hour bus ride, and a pre-game reception hosted by Stritch’s Alumni Association, the dedicated Wolves fans filled Williams Arena buzzing with excitement. Several students tweeted, “Let's Go Stritch Basketball #BattleOfTheBorder” to show their enthusiasm and anticipation.

Both the Wolves and Gophers remained scoreless for the first two minutes of the game until the Gophers made the first basket. After that the Wolves got on the board with a quick jumper from senior Derek Semenas. He would go on to be the leading scorer for the Wolves with 29 points. However, by halftime, the Gophers had a strong lead, 46-19.

The Stritch section remained hopeful that the Wolves would catch up by the end of the game as they cut the Gopher lead to 12 points. But, after the Gophers went on a 5-0 run the game was out of reach and finished with a final score of 57-79, giving Stritch their first loss.

After the game, I was fortunate enough to have the chance to sit down with Coach Diener and talk about his expectations for the 2013-14 season:

Q: What are your expectations for this upcoming season?
Coach Diener: To be able to compete for another conference title and make a deep run at the national tournament.

Q: Who are your new players and what type of impact do you think they'll have?
Coach Diener: The freshmen guards (Tyler Semenas, Matt Reinke, Teadric Anderson, and Marcus Fair) are young, athletic, and can score and allow us some depth in our roster. We also have some new big men (three being transfers) Garrett Borgrud, Alex Morgunov, Magd Owayed, Isaac Quinn, and Josiah VerVelde that give us size and make us more of a defensive and offensive threat because they will be able to relieve the guards with getting easier baskets down low.

Q: What’s different about this season’s start as opposed to last year? Do you think being the returning national champions adds additional pressure?
Coach Diener: This year we have a ton of new guys and fewer returners coming back from last season so we still have yet to establish an identity as a team. Whereas last year we had a lot of returners, the group knew our system and program well, and we had an established team chemistry. Also, being the returning national champions we have a large target on our backs and everyone is gunning for us.

Q: Who do you think will be your toughest competition this season?
Coach Diener: I would say Robert Morris University. They are currently ranked #6 in the nation and just got five Division I recruits. St. Xavier University, ranked at #11 also has the MVP of the conference returning so we have to start preparing for them.

Q: What will be your largest obstacle to overcome this season?
Coach Diener: The biggest hurdle for us would be the change in rules that the conference is going through. The conference has said that they are going to be critical on calling fouls for any physical contact. We are a physical team, so it’s going to take a learning curve to keep guys out of foul trouble in a man-to-man defense.

Q: How do think your team will adjust without having a big presence like Darren?
Coach Diener: Losing Darren is a big loss since he was such a dominant force down low, but now we have to score more from the perimeter with returning Derek Semenas. Our transfer post players also give another option for the offense to grow with offensive boards and help free up the guards.

Q: As far as team dynamics, who are your leaders?
Coach Diener: Tony Smit and Derek Semenas. These guys have both been with the program for three years and are extremely vocal. They play with confidence and hold high expectations for everyone on the court.

Q: You come from a family with a strong coaching background. What is the most important thing that your Dad has ever taught you?
Coach Diener: The most important thing that he taught me was the value in building relationships with your players and showing them that you really care about them on and off the court. The relationships he has developed have carried over for years and to this day his former players still talk to him on a daily basis.

Q:  If you want your players to take away one thing from you and your program what would it be?
Coach Diener: The main lessons that I want to establish is for them to be selfless and to do things as a team. Even if they aren't starters or see much court time, I want them to still feel valued and to know that they play a vital role in the program.