Winning a national championship used to seem like a dream for Emory’s men’s basketball team, but with each passing year, that dream edges closer and closer to reality. Coming off a season in which the Eagles tallied 20 wins, won the University Athletic Association (UAA) title and made a fourth consecutive National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament appearance (including their third consecutive trip to the Sweet 16), the team has set the bar high as they prepare for another exciting year.
With strong performances over the last few years, many players return possessing experience playing in the NCAA tournament and knowledge of what it takes to be successful. However, Head Coach Jason Zimmerman, who has been coaching at Emory for 10 years, recognizes the need for improvement despite accomplishments in years past.
“The NCAA tournament run gives you experience, but that means nothing on Tuesday night when we go play Covenant (Ga.),” Zimmerman said. “We have to play better in those 40 minutes. Sometimes youthfulness is good, and sometimes experience takes over, and that’s why we need all 15 guys to be leaders at some point in time during the year.”
The team operates under the philosophy that all players must exert leadership. This stems first from the refusal to assign team captains.
Although there are no Emory basketball team captains, “[the team has] senior leaders … but there are different times when everyone has to be a leader,” Zimmerman said.
This egalitarian atmosphere gives all players a chance to have their voice heard.
“I don’t think anyone is afraid to hold another one accountable,” junior forward Adam Gigax said. “No matter who the individual on the team is, they are not afraid to speak their mind and lead when the opportunity presents itself.”
The men’s basketball program has made four consecutive NCAA tournament appearances for a total of five appearances in the program’s history. This success is not only impressive, but also unprecedented in the program’s history.
“When I first came [to Emory] nine years ago, winning a national championship was foreign to us,” Zimmerman said. “Now, I don’t think it’s foreign, but you also can’t lose track of what got you to that point.”
Zimmerman acknowledges that the goal from his first year coaching at Emory has been to win a national championship. However, the goals he communicates to the team revolve around the little improvements they can make week-to-week.
“We go into the season with three real objectives: get better every day, compete to win and then enjoy the journey,” Zimmerman said. “We have talked about winning an NCAA championship since we’ve been here, but that’s not the goal you focus on every day. The first goal is to beat Covenant.”
With several old faces returning to face a fresh set of challenges, Gigax is optimistic about this season’s potential for success.
“While we do return a lot of guys, we really are just going to work hard every day and every game throughout the season and see where it takes us,” Gigax said. “We have a lot of experience and talent and guys really committed to what we are doing, so as far as I’m concerned, the sky’s the limit.”
The Eagles bring back a strong cast of returning players, including four seniors: guard Jonathan Terry, forward Austin Dague, forward Jim Gordon and guard Jonathan Coles. Gigax was named to the All-UAA First Team last year on 12.9 points per game, while junior point guard Whit Rapp, coming off a season in which he averaged nearly six assists per game, will run the offense. Additionally, the coaching staff composed of Zimmerman and Assistant Coaches Charlie Copp, Chris McHugh, Chad Hixon and Pete Zaharis were recognized as the 2015-2016 UAA Coaching Staff of the Year.
Ask Zimmerman who his team’s best player is, and you will likely leave with comprehensive knowledge of the Eagles’ 15-man roster.
“Our depth is great and it could be a strength for us … We can play a lot of different ways and not take away from our effectiveness,” Zimmerman said. “There’s not one guy that [opponents] can key on to stop us.”
The standards are high, but the Eagles will take on this season one game at a time. The Eagles lost their first game of the season against Covenant College by a score of 74-70 on Tuesday and will play their next game on Friday against William Peace University (N.C.) in Greensbro N.C.
firstname.lastname@example.org | Kevin Kilgour (18B) is from Wichita, Kan., majoring in English and business administration with a concentration in marketing. This past summer, he worked as a communications and development intern at Global Growers Network. Some of his greatest sports accomplishments include predicting Butler’s 2010 Final Four run and leading PAL Group One Eight (gold is our fate) to an Oxford Olympics championship. One of his goals in life is to write Derrick Rose’s biography.