Could this year’s Davidson basketball team be better than last year’s? That was one of a flurry of anxious thoughts that raced through my head as I watched Saturday’s unexpected performance against Butler. And there’s that whole expectations thing again. Last year, Davidson lost to Butler by nearly the exact same score (actually, we did a bit better this year…on the road, against a supposed better team). But my post-game emotions this year are basically opposite from last February.
The result against Butler last season provoked a hopeless feeling; last Saturday’s game, on the contrary, made me feel significantly hopeful. Last year’s game was a sloppy version of Davidson basketball, too reliant on one player who was off his game due to injury and fatigue; this year’s game featured more than a few moments of perfect Bob McKillop basketball — an energized and balanced offense, crisp passing, smart cuts, excellent rebounding, and tough defense. I could be biased given the negativity that pervades my reflections on last season, but the team on Saturday reminded me more of 2008 than last year’s team ever did.
I want to be careful here not to lay the blame for the lost 2009 season on #30. We all know that Bob McKillop’s successful incorporation of Steph’s greatness into the Davidson system was what made 2008’s team one of the very best in the nation. Last year, we got away from the system, and relied too much on one guy. From the beginning, I attributed this more to the void that Jason Richards’ graduation created, rather than Steph being a ballhog in any way. Realistically, there was no one to replace Richards other than Steph. Unfortunately, there was no one to replace Steph either — so he had to do it all. Out of necessity. Without him, last year’s team might have been mediocre.
This season, things are different. Base Rich would advise me to temper my enthusiasm, but it’s already apparent that JP Kuhlman and Jake Cohen are ready to make a major impact. I kept reminding myself that this was the first collegiate game…ever…for these guys. They looked confident and prepared, and obviously very skilled. Kuhlman was the biggest surprise for me. I knew he could shoot. I didn’t know he could play the point the way he did. Cohen was as advertised…tall, quick, and offensively gifted.
Midway through the second half, my heart started racing rapidly. I had that feeling again…the what if? What if Davidson could pull off this shocker? There were points in this game when I felt almost cocky, as a fan. The team had a swagger that everyone in the world told them they ought not have, and it felt good to see that again.
Davidson Basketball is back, and I’m psyched to see where this team can go.