Joe Begg ’21
A few nights ago, I talked to two members of the Men’s Basketball team about how they’ve changed, both personally and as members of a team—a team going through a few changes of its own. Holy Cross’ new coaching staff, specifically recently-hired head coach Brett Nelson, was on my mind, and it seemed like he was on the minds of Kyle Copeland ’21 and DJ Hart ’22 as well.
“He was a three year starter at Florida, all-time three-point leader in Florida,” Kyle leans forward a little bit in his seat as he tells me about his new coach.
“McDonald’s All-American,” DJ offers.
“McDonald’s All-American,” Kyle repeats. “This guy is legit…Billy Donovan was his head coach.”
As a D1 basketball program with a storied legacy, Holy Cross sets a high standard for its athletes, but it seems that Coach Nelson is taking that standard to a new level, and his impact is already being felt amongst the players.
“I’ve never run so much in my life,” Kyle confesses, “It’s the energy as well. This year we’re running every drill, we’re yelling, we’re clapping. I think everybody is on board because we all want to play fast and everybody wants to shoot threes and everybody wants to score.”
DJ pipes up, “Last year our team was more slow. We slowed down the game a lot and reacted to what the other team was doing, but this year we’re taking the front seat, we’re pushing the ball.”
Kyle nods his head, “A question that everyone’s been asking us is what’s different this year compared to last year. We have a brand new coaching staff, and the entire thing is just a lot more intense. It’s just different. The style of play is different, the whole environment is different.”
I asked Kyle if these changes in expectations and coaching have altered his role on the team more quickly than he anticipated, especially as a junior on a team with only one senior on its roster.
“Oh yeah, for sure. Taking on a leadership role means being more vocal in practice, and it means having the confidence to take on that role and really perform to the best of my ability. In terms of really bringing everyone together when we’re going through workouts and whatnot, I think a lot of that pressure is on the sophomores and juniors who have experienced one or two years of college basketball, and it’s our job to bring the freshmen into that.”
“We’re getting older,” DJ says; “Going from a freshman to a sophomore is a really big jump, so just talking to the younger guys and helping them out. I try to talk to the younger guys from experience, from being on the team last year and knowing what’s expected.”
The focus of the team remains the same: winning the Patriot League and taking the Crusaders to the NCAA Tournament. Our last appearance was in 2016.
Kyle adopts a more serious tone when we breach the subject: “Wins and losses, those are both gonna happen. At the end of the day, we all wanna go to the Tournament.”
“Thing is that we have to take it day by day, practice by practice, game by game,” adds DJ.
“Day by day,” Kyle agrees. “Our results will speak for themselves.”
Despite all these changes, the two people in front of me seem relaxed and confident, and have an organic excitement about the upcoming season. Kyle promises one thing: “It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch.”
The Holy Cross Men’s Basketball team plays their first home game against Fairfield on November 12.
Photo courtesy of goholycross.com