ntering the final year in Alumni Gym, both the Elon University men and women’s basketball teams look to be competitive in the Colonial Athletic Association. The men have a 31-game slate, not including the preseason exhibition game on Nov. 1 against Randolph College. The women will have a 29-game list, adding an additional preseason exhibition game against Anderson University on Nov. 5. Head coaches Matt Matheny and Charlotte Smith enter their ninth and seventh years at the helm, respectively, and provided their thoughts on the Phoenix teams and what they hope to accomplish this season.
The Elon University men's basketball team practices in Aulmni Gym prior to the start of its season. [Alec Mandell | ENN]
eginning tonight, the Elon University men’s basketball team begins its 2017-18 season.
The Phoenix finished last season with a 18-14 record, 10-8 in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA). Head coach Matt Matheny says that his team is in form.
“Preseason is an interesting time because you’re not judged on winning or losing a game,” Matheny said. “You’re evaluating constantly, did you have a good practice or a bad practice or are you getting better. That’s subjective; winning or losing is not subjective. But subjectively, I think we’re doing well.”
For the ninth-year head coach, this team brings something unique to the court.
“The thing that stands out the most is that we’re getting great upperclassmen leadership, and I think we’re getting better,” Matheny said. It’s good to be back out on the court. We’re tweaking some things, but I love our leadership. That’s the thing that I’m most impressed with.”
The team will look fairly similar with all five of its top scorers returning from last year. Junior Tyler Seibring led the Phoenix last year, averaging 14.4 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. The forward looks ahead to getting back on the court.
“Practice has been going really well,” Seibring said. “We’re bringing a lot of guys back who have a lot of experience, so things are running pretty smoothly, but we’re still working hard every day.”
“I think there is a confidence that our team has because we have so much experience,” Matheny said. “But I think there is also an understanding that this is a brand new year. And as much as we have a lot of guys back, it’s still a brand new team.”
When it comes to returners, Seibring agrees with his coach. But while it makes a difference to have experience, building off of last year will be the key to success.
“It definitely helps,” Seibring said. “We have a foundation set from the years previous. We’re looking to build on that. We have new guys who are going to be able to contribute, and with the experience we’ve had, it’s been easier to build on that and have them integrate pretty easily.”
After falling in the first round of the CAA tournament last year 71-66 to William & Mary, the Phoenix begins this season picked to finish third in the conference. For Matheny, there is one thing that matters most.
“I’m looking forward to today’s practice because the season is long,” Matheny said. “I’ve begun, in the past several years, to really appreciate the process. If we can get better today, then it puts us in a position to be better when the games start. I love today’s opportunity for improvement.”
Coming into his third year, Seibring understands his role on the court and will do what he can to help with the improvement Coach Matheny mentioned.
“Just kind of doing what I have to do to help out,” Seibring said. “It might not be scoring that much this year, who knows. It could be what’s required on a game-to-game basis and it could be what’s in the flow of our team and our offense.”
“We focus on the process of getting better and being the best that we can be,” Matheny said. “That’s why we talk a lot about this year’s team and building this year’s team. We want to be as good as we can be. One thing that I personally am focused on and I think our team has always had a goal on is enjoying it.”
As the season starts, something is in the back of the minds of the players and coaches. This season will be the last basketball season in Alumni Gym before the program moves to the new Schar Center.
Dedicated in 1950, Alumni Gym has hosted Elon basketball for decades. After renovations to upgrade the facility in 2010, the current facility has a capacity of just over 1,600. Elon has sold out Alumni Gym 15 times under Matheny, including a record crowd of 1,876 on Feb. 28, 2015 versus University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
“I think it’s going to be emotional, particularly at the end, because Alumni Gym for years has gotten some positive comments and feelings, but for years has been viewed as less than because it’s small. It’s become an incredibly intimate place for our team, our program and playing here, before the renovations and since the renovations, the relationship this facility allows us to have with our fans is something really special.”
For the men, that last, emotional season will begin tonight in Alumni Gym against Randolph College. Tip off is scheduled for 7 p.m.