By Carrie Arnold
Sports staff writer
For the first time in five years — since the 11-12 season — the UNC Asheville men’s basketball team has been predicted to win the Big South Conference. Last season the Bulldogs earned the Big South regular season title for the sixth time and made program history winning 20 games faster than any other team in 27 games.
Since beginning practice six weeks ago, Head Coach Nick McDevitt has focused on helping his team develop the chemistry necessary for a successful season.
“I really like how our players are building team chemistry,” McDevitt said. “Developing that team chemistry is something that just takes time. You can’t force that or make it happen fast. This group is doing a good job of trying to develop that.”
Ten of the 14 team members have been at UNCA 14 months or less and getting everyone on the same page has been top priority.
Kevin Vannatta, a senior guard on the team, said they are still developing their relationship including learning each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
“We have 10 new guys basically. So it’s been just learning each other and coming together as a team on the court and team chemistry off the court,” Vannatta said. “There are teams in the country who have been playing together for two or three years and we’ve basically been playing together two or three months.”
Despite being such a young team, Vannatta said he still feels they have the right attitude going into the season.
“Something that we do, I think, really well is we kind of have a culture of toughness and playing with great effort and attitude,” Vannatta said. “I think that’s been successful for us in the past and I think it will continue to be successful for us.”
Macio Teague, a sophomore point guard, is excited as the season starts and feels optimistic about the mindset the team is bringing with them.
“We’re a family. This is a family environment,” Teague said. “We try to be the hardest playing team so that really helps us out a lot.”
Seeing fellow students in the crowd cheering creates much needed energy for the team to feed off during games, Vannatta said.
“Student athletes want to have fans at their games,” Vannatta said. “Having fans in here helps us definitely. It’s louder, helps us on defense and gives us a little extra energy when we’re fighting fatigue.”
McDevitt said he feels the benefits of strong student support and presence at games yields better results for the players, the coaches and the program as a whole.
“I think being able to see your fellow students in the stands during games and hearing the support and seeing the support they’re giving you as a player and us as a team and program, our guys feed off it,” McDevitt said. “They feed off their energy. So seeing the stands packed with students is a lot of fun. The more the merrier.”
Teague said he feels increasing student turnout at home games will help the team’s morale during the season.
“The home-court advantage is definitely a big thing that we can use this season and if students come out to support us I think that will be an advantage to us,” Teague said.
Teague said the Bulldogs have a lot to look forward to this season with the expectation and hope of winning the Big South Conference, 10 new team members and travel opportunities to Tennessee, Virginia and California.