Contributions from younger players anchor men’s basketball
Captain Guilien Smith ’19 is the only senior on the men’s basketball roster this season.
In the midst of one of its better seasons in recent years, one might guess that the Dartmouth men’s basketball team would be senior-heavy. Generally, when a team gets better and better each season, it’s because it doesn’t lose many key contributors and its current players continue to improve all the way through their senior seasons.
After a disappointing 7-20 season last year that marked the team’s 19th straight year without a winning record, Dartmouth now stands at 11-13. Its Ivy League record is a disappointing 2-6 due to five losses by five points or fewer in conference play, but as a whole, the team has made significant progress this season.
Somehow, the team has done this with just one senior, captain Guilien Smith ’19, who has been injured for almost the entire season. For almost the entire season, the Big Green has been the only Ivy League team to not start a single senior.
When healthy, Smith plays a huge role on the team. He averaged a stellar 12 points per game as a sophomore, but he has only started eight games in the past two seasons due to injury. He missed a span of two months in the middle of this season and has still seen limited minutes as he continues to ease his way back into the lineup.
While Smith hasn’t been able to make as much of an impact due to his injuries, head coach David McLaughlin indicated that he’s done a phenomenal job fulfilling his duties as one of the team’s three captains.
“As a leader you have to be selfless, and he’s been that,” McLaughlin said. “He has to put others in front of himself, and that’s not easy to do through injuries.”
Smith came to Dartmouth in a class of three recruits, including Evan Boudreaux and Michael Stones. Stones transferred to Palm Beach Atlantic University after his freshman year, and Boudreaux graduated in three years and transferred to Purdue University with two years of eligibility remaining.
With only one senior, McLaughlin has turned to his juniors to take a leadership role. For what the team lacks in quantity of seniors, it makes up for with quantity of juniors. Three of the team’s five regular starters (Brendan Barry ’20, James Foye ’20 and Ian Sistare ’20) are juniors, with Foye and Sistare serving as the other two captains. Ian Carter ’20 and Will Emery ’20 are also key contributors to the team.
“They’re upperclassmen,” McLaughlin said. “They trained like it this summer and have acted like it since we got to practice in terms of their approach. They got themselves into elite shape, which really set the tone for the rest of the team.”
Foye is one of those juniors who trained hard in the offseason and has taken on a much more significant role this season. He only averaged 10.6 minutes per game and 1.5 points per game in his sophomore campaign, yet he was chosen as a captain and has increased his scoring totals to 10.1 points per game this season.
“It’s something that you grow into,” Foye said. “Having a big class helps a lot because we’ve come up together, can lean on each other and have the same leadership challenges. It’s been a big jump for me, but those guys have been a big help.”
In addition to a strong junior class, the team also has six sophomores. This includes its leading scorer Chris Knight ’21, regular starter Aaryn Rai ’21 and frequent starter Adrease Jackson ’21. The sophomore class was the first that McLaughlin, in his third year as head coach, recruited with his staff. He had a set of specific qualities that he and his staff looked for in evaluating new recruits.
“Our number one priority is that we want guys who love basketball,” McLaughlin said. “If they love hoops and want to get better, we have a good thing here for them. The type of guys who can buy into our work culture are the type of guys we want in this program, which has been our main point of emphasis hitting the recruiting trail.”
With those criteria in mind, McLaughlin brought in a freshman class consisting of Taurus Samuels ’22, Garrison Wade ’22 and Wes Slajchert ’22. All three have impressed this season, with Samuels flashing lots of potential as a superstar in the making.
In addition to all of those young players gaining a year of experience, the team will also gain another player to offset the loss of Smith. Guard Trevon Ary-Turner ’21, who transferred from Weber State University, will be eligible to play next year. He’s been practicing with the team throughout the season, meaning he’s already familiar with the offense and should be able to transition effectively.
“Whenever you have continuity, it helps in the offseason a lot because you don’t have to spend a ton of time going over basic concepts or putting in a whole new offense,” Foye said. “You can spend time getting better at the little things.”
Needless to say, there’s a lot for the Big Green to look forward to.
“The future is really bright,” Foye said. “Coach McLaughlin is building something special.”
Given that the Big Green has been so competitive in most of its Ivy League losses, all it needs to do is turn some of those close losses into wins with a couple more key plays down the stretch. That makes the outlook for the future more promising but also reinforces how important the rest of the season is. McLaughlin, while hopeful for the future, is fully focused on accomplishing the team’s goals on a day-by-day basis.
“Instead of talking about next year, we’re talking about whether we got better today,” McLaughlin said. “That’s much more process-oriented versus looking too far into the future.”
At 2-6 in Ivy League play, Dartmouth is still in play to make the Ivy League tournament by finishing in the top four of the conference, although it would probably have to win out or potentially win five of its next six to accomplish this goal. With six Ivy League games remaining, a strong finish to the season could vault the Big Green into the conference tournament to compete for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
“That’d be huge for us,” Samuels said.
The Ivy League tournament has only been around for three years, but the Big Green historically hasn’t been a huge threat to win the conference even before the tournament was around. With that said, making and winning the tournament would be even more important for the program.
“I’m sure that would make our alumni very proud to be part of [the program],” Samuels said.
The Big Green will travel to Brown University and Yale University next weekend for two more road games before returning home the following weekend. Look for the team to continue with its day-by-day approach as it aims to finish the 2018-19 season on a strong note before transitioning into what’s sure to be an exciting 2019-20 campaign.