Men’s basketball’s run to the NCAA tournament in March capped a thrilling season and captivated the Northeastern community. Now the team is focused on building on that experience. While last season’s leading scorer Scott Eatherton and fellow senior Reggie Spencer have graduated, the Huskies return four starters and boast a promising group of freshmen for the 2015-16 campaign, which begins Friday night at crosstown rival Boston University.
Head coach Bill Coen says the team’s goal is to return to the Big Dance, and its non-conference schedule—which includes three NCAA tournament teams from a year ago—will help the Huskies enter Colonial Athletic Association play in January as a battle-tested team. We sat down with Coen and senior co-captain David Walker, who was named to the Preseason All-CAA First Team and averaged 13.4 points a game last season, to discuss the upcoming season.
What’s been your biggest focus heading into this season?
Walker: First and foremost, becoming a better leader. Scott and Reggie were our big vocal leaders last year, so I’m trying to help fill that role. Coaches would like me to be more aggressive this year too. I’m trying to be the best practice player every day, to help show our freshmen what the culture is like at Northeastern.
What did the team learn from reaching the NCAA tournament a season ago?
Walker: I’d say we have to take last year and build on that. We’re not settling for one championship. That’s our goal every year—to get to the NCAA tournament. We understand the hard work it takes to get there.
Coen: I think reaching the NCAA tournament last year broke that glass ceiling in terms of our players’ visions for themselves and the program. I hope the lesson they took from last year is that if they play hard, play smart, and play together, they can achieve great things and compete against any program in the country. I think last year was confirmation of that. One of the keys to a successful season will be how well our senior group can mentor our freshman group. That’s going to be a process that we’ll sort out throughout our non-conference schedule, and as always, we’re hoping that we’ll be playing our best basketball in Baltimore during the CAA tournament.
You have to be an elite teammate before you can become an elite team.
— Head coach Bill Coen
How would you describe the leadership on this team?
Coen: We have four seniors and some other upperclassmen who are accomplished players. Davey, Q (Quincy Ford), Caleb (Donnelly) and Zach (Stahl) have a wealth of experience and they’ll bring a senior urgency to the court each and every day. That urgency will build as the year goes along. We also have returning players like T.J. Williams, Kwesi Abakah, and Devon Begley, all of whom had a taste of a championship run. I think it starts with our seniors being outstanding leaders.
We’re going to rely on our returning members from a championship team. A group of young men who understand the commitment level necessary to win a championship, who understand that culture is paramount, that you have to be an elite teammate before you can become an elite team.
In what area do you see the greatest opportunity for the team to improve?
Walker: You can always get better at everything, but one of the things coach always talks about is execution and communication. We need to keep talking to each other on the court, especially down to the last minute, because it can decide the game.
What do you think about facing BU again in the season opener?
Walker: It’s a great rivalry. We’ve faced them in the first game the past several years. We respect each other. It’s a good start to the season to play a crosstown rival and see where your team stacks up. Everyone is always really excited for the first game of the year. It should be a good matchup.
The Northeastern-BU rivalry, which resumes on Friday, Nov. 13, has been nothing if not entertaining in recent years. The Huskies have won four of the last five meetings, including a 71-65 victory last season at TD Garden. In each of the last six meetings, the game has been decided by six points or less or in overtime. A limited number of tickets are still available for purchase.