September 28, 2016

Webster Men’s basketball team gets boost from younger players

For the Webster men’s basketball team, three seniors — Aaron Griffin, Kevin Miller and Ahmad Smith — are vital. They have led the team in various statistical categories, but injuries have prevented them from staying on the court together this season.

JORDAN PALMER / The Journal Sophomore Hunter Ward boxes out a teammate to grab a rebound in practice.

JORDAN PALMER / The Journal
Sophomore Hunter Ward boxes out a teammate to grab a rebound in practice.

Smith sprained his ankle on Jan. 17 against Fontbonne University, and Kevin Miller has yet to play in a game this season because of tendinitis in his knees.

Head Coach Chris Bunch said the team has done a good job staying ready. Sophomores Adam Etter, Hunter Ward, CJ Moore, Johnathan Odjo, Henry Joseph and Kenan Haywood are averaging a combined 39 points per game They have helped lead the team to a record of 11-7.

“We just try to get everyone to understand that you’re only an injury or something else happening away from playing more,” Bunch said. “Basketball season is a long season, there’s a lot of practice time and a lot of games for, unfortunately, adverse things to happen.”

Hunter Ward emerges

Ward has been a productive player for the team this year. Though Ward is only in his second year, Bunch already relies on him to be one of the players carrying the offensive load for the team. He has scored a total of 200 points and is second on the team in points per game, averaging 12.5 points behind Smith’s 15.8.

Bunch says he’s not surprised by the way Ward has taken off despite his youth. He said he saw flashes of brilliance from him last season, convincing Bunch that Ward had the potential to be a dominant player in the future. 

“(Ward) is a really talented player,” he said. “He can shoot; he can drive and score around the basket. Last year against (Illinois Wesleyan University) in the (NCAA Division lll National Tournament), he looked like the best player on the floor.”

Now that Smith is out for a period, Ward says he has the confidence to fill Smith’s place and play with an even higher level of intensity.

“It’s always tough to lose a guy like (Smith), but I have a lot of faith in myself that I can help this team out by passing, shooting and whatever I need to do to help the team win,” he said.

Ward has played several high-scoring games this season, which has helped the team collect wins. He scored 19 points against Loras College on Dec. 6, 18 against Greenville University on Jan. 10 and a career high of 22 points against Millikin University on Nov. 11, where he sank four 3-pointers. Miller is the team’s starting center, and his absence has  forced Ward to  go from playing the wing to playing the front court. Ward leads the team in rebounding with a 7.6 average, and despite being undersized in most games, he holds his own against opposing forwards and front-court players.

Ward has attributed his success to the amount of practice and hard work he put into his game after last season. He said that after getting a feel for college basketball, he was dedicated to elevating his game for this season.

“I just put a lot of time in, in the offseason,” he said. “I know I’m not one of the older guys on the team, but I know I need to do well and do my part to help this team win. This year I’ve done some good things and some bad things, but I think I need to continue to step up and be a leader.”

Adam Etter contributes

Adam Etter is the starting point guard for the team, and in the absence of Hollis Edwards, who held the position last year, Etter will be taking on a larger role.

Last year Etter played in all 27 games and averaged 15.4 minutes per game.

“I fit right in with the team,” he said. “Coming in, a lot of my teammates really accepted Odjo, (Moore) and I. We all got to play last year as freshmen, and the older guys kind of just took us under their wings, and it really helped.”

Most of Etter’s contributions come from behind the 3-point line. He is third on the team in 3-pointers with 21 and second in 3-point percentage shooting with 43 percent per game.

Now that Etter has a year of experience under his belt, Bunch says he wants him to be more assertive when calling plays and making decisions on the court.

“As a point guard, he has to be assertive, he has to tell people where to go on the court,” Bunch said. “He has to be a quarterback out there and be a leader on the floor.”

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