By Finn Courtney (@finncourtney_)
While his red locks may not have changed since coming to Widener, the play of Kevin Schenk certainly has taken quite a few steps forward for the big man from Pottsville in the midst of a terrific campaign.
And it hasn’t just been the play of the 6-foot-6 stretch forward, it’s been the program itself — jumping from losing records in his freshman and sophomore year, to a MAC title and NCAA tournament berth a season ago, to looking like potential NCAA title contenders to close out his career. If Schenk’s words are any way to think about the team, however, he is personifying putting the team above individual glory.
“I’ve had the luxury of playing with great teammates along the way,” Schenk said. “Today [was] a great example, just get my teammates involved and good things will happen.”
Despite his humility, Schenk was at the center of a 87-69 handling of conference foe Eastern on Wednesday, flirting with a triple-double with nine points, nine rebounds and 10 assists as Widener improved to 17-3 overall.
Widener senior Kevin Schenk almost had a triple-double in Wednesday's win over Eastern. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL FIle)
Schenk averaged just six points, 1.7 assists and 4.4 rebounds in his first two seasons. His growth has come the most with his mindset and not focusing on just one aspect of the game, but analyzing the situation and going from there. And the results speak for themselves, as he’s in the midst of his best statistical season to-date, averaging 10.7 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game.
“A big thing for me was growing mentally, I just had to channel my emotions and figure it out that way,” Schenk said. “I try to do a little bit of everything, however I can help the team win that night is what I’m gonna do, whether that be defending, rebounding, scoring.”
While the majority of forwards nowadays have shifted away from Schenk’s style, he is a throwback in that while he can step out for a three, he can also dish and swish with precision. For head coach Chris Carideo, checking all the boxes is what he’s come to expect of the often-times positionless Schenk.
“We don’t really have a ‘true big’, we play a lot of guys that are 6-5, 6-6 and [Kevin’s] one of those guys,” Carideo said. “He can go inside out, he can defend guards, bigs and [that’s] what we try to tell him, ‘you’re not really out of position Kev, just be a basketball player, you’re gonna guard six-eight some nights, some days you’re gonna guard six-foot.’ He gives us a lot of unique qualities to be able to run a lot of different stuff on offense and on defense, he gives us the ability to switch everything.”
Carideo, in his 18th season at the helm of the Widener Pride, is in the midst of arguably the best season of his coaching career thus far. Currently just behind the Middle Atlantic Conference lead with a 7-2 mark in conference play, and perhaps a little bitter after last year’s opening round exit in the NCAA tournament, hopes are high for Carideo and the Pride.
In its two league losses to Hood and York, Widener was on the wrong side of a fast start and unable to prevent a double-digit loss. Comparing those outings to their game against Eastern, Carideo was glad to see the Pride turn things around, get out early offensively and hopes to see more of the same down the stretch.
“I like our group, we’re starting to come together, the connection’s starting to be there, we played a really tough non-conference schedule so I think we have an idea of what we can do outside of our conference,” Carideo said. “Our conference is really strong, we got almost five teams in the Top 100, so every night’s a grind, but winning on the road tonight was great for us.”
Hood is at the top of the league standings with just one loss. The Pride hosts Hood in Chester on Saturday with first place in the conference on the line.
“They’re very talented, one of the better teams in the country,” Carideo said, “we’re gonna have to find a way to play against their zone, take away pressure, take better shots and play better defense than we did the first time.”
From a player’s perspective, however, the Pride may as well have circled the date with a red marker. In particular, Schenk is looking forward to a second crack at the Blazers, who are riding a three-game winning streak into the Schwartz Center and control first place in the MAC with an 8-1 conference record.
“We’re hungry, we’ve been waiting for this game for a while, obviously we had to take care of business along the way but we’ve been waiting to get back at them for a while,” Schenk said. “I think the energy will be way up and we’re gonna have a couple good practices leading into it.”
With Schenk, star forward Dominic Dunn, savvy transfer guard Anthony DiCaro and a load of depth that allows them to go 10 or 11 deep most games, some weight is admitally taken off of Carideo who has full confidence in his highly-experienced roster. Last season, he felt that guys coming off the bench didn’t have a ton of experience - this season however, experience has been the name of the game.
“Mike Kane transferred from Drew where he started and played 32 minutes a game last year, tonight he probably played 16 minutes off the bench and picked up big buckets for us, so hopefully that helps us into the conference [and] NCAA tournament,” Carideo said. “It’s huge because honestly, there are times when I can sit back and let them make the decisions cause they’ve all played four, five years of college basketball so they kinda have a pulse of what’s going on.”
Twenty games into their season and not many in the regular schedule left to go, things look promising for a deep run come March - the first in a number of seasons under Carideo.
“We think this is our year, we got a lot of experience, lot of guys who’ve been playing college basketball for three, four, five years,” Schenk said, “we just need to keep growing every day and keep gelling and I think we’ll be happy with the end result at the end of the season.”