The return of basketball is just around the corner, and the high flying men’s basketball team is set to bring another year of excitement to the Panzer Athletic Center.
Last season, the Red Hawks had a tremendous year. The team’s overall record was 22-6 and the team finished third in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) while ultimately losing second place to Stockton University in the semifinals of the NJAC tournament. In addition, the Red Hawks made the NCAA Division lll tournament for the first time in nearly 20 years while falling to Hamilton College in the first round.
Head coach Justin Potts, who is set to enter his fifth season in charge, believes this team can build upon last year’s success but he also knows every year is different.
“Each season brings a new challenge,” Potts said. “As we talk about all the time, every season’s a journey for us so the goal every year is how good can we be by the time the journey’s over. I think we maximized that last year, did a lot of really good things and I thought it was great for the program to have that level of success. And now this team’s got to create their own journey and own identity and find ways to take some of those experiences and use it to our advantage.”
The Red Hawks have a total of 14 players who are returning for this season and all play a crucial and valuable role on this team. Two of these key players are senior guard Keyon Pryce and junior guard Mike Jackson who were two of the top three leading scorers for Montclair State University in 2022.
Pryce has as much experience as the next guy and is certainly embracing a leadership role with a group he loves.
“I treat everybody like my brother and my family so it gets kinda easy leading these guys and helping everybody, everybody has a hand in the pot on this team,” Pryce said. “It’s not just one leader here, one leader there, it’s not just one main coach, we got a bunch of coaches, we got a bunch of core value players that play key roles each day. That goes for practice, games, film, just getting shots up. I feel like everybody’s a leader on this team and this team is a tremendous group of guys to play with.”
Although there is plenty of familiarity within Montclair State at the moment, losing forward Steven Breeman, who was named to the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Division III All-America Second Team, will take some time getting used to.
It has been a long off-season for the Red Hawks as they have been scratching to get back at it and were constantly looking to improve their game.
“Oh, definitely, in our pressure,” Jackson said. “Definitely, on when we score we get right into our press. That’s definitely been, like, what we’ve been working on getting better at and then executing on the offensive end and just getting easy baskets, sharing the ball, making good reads, making extra pass[es], getting better shots. So, like, things of that nature we really working on, very consistently, 100%.”
The first game of the season is on Friday, Nov. 10, against Lycoming College, who had a successful 2022 campaign and finished 16-10.
Playing out of conference games are always tough and according to Potts, as long as they play their brand of basketball, they will be in a good position.
“I think the biggest thing is go be us, put 40 minutes on the line, play to our- you know our style and standard that we have, see what happens at the end of those 40 minutes,” Potts said. “Lycoming’s got a good program, coach does a good job out there. When you only get 25 games, you want to take advantage of every opportunity. Going on the road is always tough, you know you obviously want to try to start 1-0 and that’s our main focus is [to] concentrate on that game, play that one, see what happens, and then get ready to play the next one.”
It was an exciting season a year ago and 2023 is shaping up to do much of the same. Between an experienced coaching staff and team, these Red Hawks are coming for it all.