Dan Newhart (@danny_newhart)
(Ed. Note: This article is part of CoBL's 2015-16 College Season Preview, which will run from October 2-November 13, the first day of games. For the complete rundown, click here)
Tim Kempton knows that with a youthful team last season, not many college basketball fans had high expectations for Lehigh in the Patriot League.
Of 15 roster spots, only three Mountain Hawks were seniors: forward Conroy Baltimore and guards Stefan Cvrkalj and Corey Schaefer. Of the three, only Schaefer had seen significant playing time heading into the season.
The youth paired with the fact that Lehigh got off to a 1-4 start in conference play last season did not help matters.
“Everyone talks about the past two years we were such a young team with little to no experience,” Kempton, a junior forward, said. “They had nothing to expect – what they got is kind of what they were happy for.”
Fans may have more to expect this season. The Mountain Hawks finished off conference play strong last season, and finished with a 16-14 record overall and a 10-8 mark in league play.
Lehigh returns four of five starters from last season, losing only Schaefer to graduation. Combined, those returning-- Kempton, Justin Goldsborough, Austin Price and Kahron Ross -- have started 108 games.
Head coach Brett Reed believes with his team’s court experience and the leadership he has seen from it so far in preseason practice, expectations are rightfully raised.
“I share our guys’ thought process in that we really want to be an ultra-competitive team in our league this year,” Reed said. “We’re going to have to make shots and we’re also going to have to really play unselfishly. We have some players that have played meaningful minutes for us in the past that are beginning to play more like veterans. They understand our concepts, it’s not their first time hearing it and they’re able to execute at a very high level.”
“It’s not something that’s generally talked about in the locker room,” Kempton added. “We ourselves ultimately expect to win the Patriot League championship.”
Goldsborough started 22 games in 2014 averaging 7.5 points and 5.8 boards per game. Joining him in the frontcourt again this season is Kempton, the defending league MVP.
Kempton, the Patriot League Rookie of the Year in 2013-14, built on a solid freshman campaign last season. He started 29 of 30 games, led the team in scoring with a clip of 15.3 points per game and was the Patriot League’s leading rebounder, pulling down 8.7 boards per contest.
Like Reed, Kempton sees the court experience on this year’s team as an invaluable asset. In limited practice time this preseason he has also seen teammates take big strides in terms of leadership.
“We have so many players that have been there before and have played in tight situations,” Kempton said. “Now that our seniors have matured they’re taking leadership roles and talent-wise it’s evident that we have talent, but everything just has to mesh.”
Also looking to fill a leadership role is Ross, a sophomore point guard who followed Kempton as Patriot League RoTY in 2014.
Ross was third on the team in scoring last season putting up 10.4 points per game and first in assists dishing out 5.8 per contest.
“His mental game has seen a big improvement,” Kempton said of Ross. “In practice early on you could see that when things have gone awry or his team isn’t performing as well as they should he’s been able to rally his troops better and voice his own opinion. Last year, he would kind of shy away from those aspects of the game.”
Price, a junior guard and the last returning starter from last season’s squad, hopes to once again provide Lehigh with a scoring boost. He was second on the team last season with an average of 11.4 points per game.
Reed has also liked what he has seen so far from rising senior Devon Carter. Carter has battled injury throughout his career and did not see significant minutes last season, but appeared in 17 games. Fellow senior Jesse Chuku, who played in 30 games with seven starts last season will also be potentially looked to for leadership.
“One guy I’ve been really impressed with who’s come a long way and really matured not just with his basketball skills, but his overall outlook and contributions to our team is Devon,” Reed said. “He was on the fringe of our rotation last year and now I can start to see that his hard work is paying off and I think he’ll have an opportunity to be a pretty important factor for our team.”