By Shawn McFarland
Trailing 78-65 late in the fourth quarter of Tuesday night’s men’s basketball season opener, Western New England’s Mike McCourt lunged himself at Springfield College freshman Jake Ross intentionally, and sent Ross to the free throw line.
Playing in his first collegiate game, Ross calmly approached the stripe and swished his first foul shot – his 28th point of the night. As Ross strutted around the paint and high-fived his teammates, a Western New England fan sitting three rows back of the court exclaimed, “Damn, he’s got 28 points?” The fan then paused, and likely referred to a Springfield College men’s basketball roster he pulled up on his phone. “And he’s a freshman? That’s unfair.”
Call it what you want – unfair, luck or just good recruiting – but the best player on the court on Tuesday’s was sporting maroon and white, and he came into the game with exactly zero minutes of collegiate experience under his belt.
That’s right – zero. None, zilch, nada.
Ross finished with 29 points (he sunk his second free throw, yes) and it took him just 11 field goals to do so. He added 11 rebounds, and was responsible for three blocks in the Pride’s 80-69 over the cross-city rivals.
The Northampton, Mass. native wasn’t the only first-year to make an impact. In fact, Ross was one of three freshman in the Pride’s starting lineup on Tuesday, along with Heath Post and Trey Witter.
Like Ross, Post and Witter proved that “beginner’s luck” may just exist after all. The 6-foot-6 post recorded 13 points – good for second most on the team – and five rebounds. Witter was good for eight points and flashed efficiency at the line, as he went 4-for-4 from the charity stripe.
Even on the women’s side, freshman Taylor Hall found her way into head coach Naomi Graves’ opening night starting lineup against the Golden Bears, and was responsible for five points and seven rebounds. She logged 27 minutes in the Prude’s 83-75 double overtime win.
It’s ironic, if anything, that in the 125th year of basketball at Springfield College (lest it be forgotten that the sport was invented here by Dr. James Naismith) youth may be the biggest theme.
Even past the three freshmen starting on the men’s team, the three captains – Brandon Eckles, Ben Diamond and Andy McNulty – are all juniors, and are the three most veteran players who are likely to receive regular minutes.
Sophomore Stanley Davis led the reserves with 23 minutes and nine points, while classmate Avalon McLaren came in for 17 minutes.
In fact, eight of the men’s team’s 12 players are underclassmen, with six of them being freshman. And if Tuesday’s strong showing is an indication for how the 2016-17 season will go, the first-year players will have quite the role.
The same can be said for the women’s side, where five of the 15 roster spots are occupied by freshman, with one of the starting spots occupied by a first-year in Hall.
It’s likely that this season will be shadowed by the 125-year anniversary (there will be a celebration held on Dec. 10), but the real story this season on the Pride hardwood could be quite the contrast to the sports’ celebration.