Freshmen men’s basketball players look to aid in team’s success

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Webster’s men’s basketball team is preparing for the upcoming season, and the team is looking forward to having fans in the stands once more.

It’s that time of year again: The leaves are falling, and the hoops are going up. Meanwhile, Webster University men’s basketball team is looking to take the court.

Last year, many things changed, but as time goes forward, things are going back to normal.

Chris Bunch, the head coach for the men’s basketball team at Webster, is going into his 20th season.

Bunch believes the team has a tough schedule in front of them. However, he believes the team has the potential to do well, and said the players are good people.

“I’ve tried really hard over the years to not just get good players but get good people,”  Bunch said.

Bunch believes the returning players can share knowledge and game experience with new players. He said the team has a higher percentage of players returning this year and he believes this will be very helpful.

As of right now, the team will be facing out-of-conference teams like Washington University, Missouri Baptist, Missouri S&T, Columbia College and Southeast Missouri State University (SEMO). Bunch said that one of the things he’s looking forward to is facing those tough teams.

Head men’s basketball coach Chris Bunch has won eight St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championships and has been chosen the SLIAC Coach of the Year six times. Photo contributed by Webster Athletics.

“I’m excited to get to play non-conference games and to get to play in November and December.” Bunch said. “It was really hard on our guys last year, we practiced all the way through October and didn’t play a game till February.”

Bunch said an upside to these games is the team won’t have to travel as much as normal. He said he didn’t know what COVID-19 would be like around this time of year when he made the schedule in March and April, so he wanted to stay closer to Webster.

Freshman shooting guard and small forward Jayden Thornton said he looks forward to facing SEMO on Dec. 4. Thornton said he has a friend he used to play against in high school going there.

Thornton is ranked 98th in Amateur Athletic Union Basketball. However, he said the ranking was not a ‘big deal.’

“I just go out there and play, at open gyms they don’t really say my name, they just say ‘I got 98. I got 98,’ and I think it’s kind of funny,” Thornton said.

Thornton said last year was difficult for him without fans. He feeds off the energy and momentum gained from the crowd, and with no fans, that was hard to do.

“My momentum was drained; I didn’t want to play really. It was like going to a gym and playing five on five every day,” Thornton said.

Thornton says he’s formed a good bond with about half of the team in the short amount of time they’ve known each other. He said the team chemistry is good and they’ve been spending time together outside of training.

“We’ve been hanging out during weekends,” Thornton said. “Going to Six Flags, going to the gym without coach telling us too and putting in extra work.”

Thornton also had a message for the fans.

“Come out and support us and boost our confidence so we play harder, and make us feel good,” Thornton said.

Thornton’s roommate, Johan Bennett, happens to also be his teammate. Bennett plays power forward and center for the men’s basketball team.

Bennett has grown up in a family of basketball players. Both his parents played in college and his mother, Jhudy Gonzalez, played professionally overseas and for the Women’s National Basketball Association.

“I’m looking forward to a normal season and college in general,” Bennett said. “I know COVID messed things up for a lot of people last year, including me,”

Bennett and Thornton both said this year’s team is athletic, strong, very aggressive and can shoot. They also said they’re excited to play for their teammates and their coaches.

“We’re able to work as a team pretty quickly,” Bennett said.

Bennett said he’s ready for the next level, which is having more responsibility and representing his school. He said he’s more excited than anything to get started on this season.

Bunch, Bennett and Thornton all agreed the fans play a vital role in the team’s performance.

“I think the fans have a big impact and I think it’s much more fun with a crowd there and people cheering.” Bunch said. “It makes the atmosphere so much better.”

Bennett and Thornton also look forward to having the fans back and supporting them in the stands.

The team has already started preparing for the season. It won’t be long before they take the court and fans have the opportunity to be back in the stands.

 

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Logan O'Donnell