At Long Last, Longwood Basketball Returns – Longwood Athletics - Techy Hunters

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Tuesday, November 9, 2021

At Long Last, Longwood Basketball Returns – Longwood Athletics

At Long Last, Longwood Basketball Returns

Zac Watson, DeShaun Wade, Cameron O’Conner

At Long Last, Longwood Basketball Returns

Men’s Basketball / 11/9/2021 6:15:00 AM

By CHRIS COOK
LongwoodLancers.com

IOWA CITY, Iowa – After five long months, countless miles logged on the hardwood, and many pairs of sneakers worn through and disposed of, Longwood’s 2021-22 season is finally here.
 
With the preseason grind now in the rearview, Longwood begins its fourth season under head coach Griff Aldrich tonight with a nationally-televised 10 p.m. EST showdown against Big Ten power Iowa. And while the game will take place in another time zone, and within the unfriendly confines of Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Lancer fans can get their first look at this year’s squad on the Big Ten Network.
 
Despite the late tipoff, this year’s Longwood team offers plenty of reasons to pull an all-nighter on college basketball’s opening day. With a core of returning starters Jesper Granlund, DeShaun Wade and Zac Watson, Big South All-Freshman Team pick Justin Hill, and the infusion of a recruiting coups that features five transfers, Longwood’s 2021-22 team may have the highest ceiling yet under Aldrich, according to the fourth-year head coach himself.
 
Griff Aldrich, Isaiah Wilkins“The blending of the old and new is going to be really important for us, but we have a lot of different pieces and we’re going to have the ability to be really dynamic offensively,” he said. “The biggest thing is embracing how we play and who we want to be. Longwood basketball has evolved a little bit since I’ve been here, but ultimately we want to be a team that plays really hard, plays together, is very tough, unselfish and disciplined, and executes at a high level.
 
“All of those things – toughness, playing hard, executing, discipline – to me that’s all the fruit you get from what we call ‘pouring into the root.’ Those are the outputs of what your inputs are, and those inputs really start with a competitive mindset and playing with a purpose.”
 
Those axioms have been part of the Longwood men’s basketball vernacular since Aldrich and his staff took over in the spring of 2018 and have provided the foundation for a program that has enjoyed a three-year-long stream of milestones and program firsts. Those have ranged from the program’s first two Division I postseason tournament invitations (the College Basketball Invitational in both 2018-19 and 2020-21) to record Big South finishes (fourth place in 2019-20) and record numbers of Big South wins (nine in 2019-20, surpassed by the Lancers’ 10 in 2020-21).
 
In continuing to raise that bar, however, this year’s Lancer team will face the challenge of integrating a recruiting class that, with eight new players, makes up half of Longwood’s roster.
 
DA HoustonBut while short on Longwood-specific basketball experience, the veteran-laden group is long on talent. Five of those newcomers are transfers from prominent and established Division I programs, and all are eligible to play immediately. Among those are ACC veteran Isaiah Wilkins from Virginia Tech and Wake Forest, three-time MEAC champion Jordan Perkins from N.C. Central, former Virginia 6A High School Player of the Year Michael Christmas from James Madison, and bruising guard DA Houston from College of Charleston.
 
“The benefit with this group is that only three of them are freshmen, so even though they’re new they’re a little bit more seasoned,” Aldrich said. “With the experience they all have playing at this level, they’re able to focus on embracing our culture, learning how we do things, and how we play here at Longwood. They’re not going to be distracted by the novelty of being a first-year college student, and they won’t be shocked by the rigors of the season.”
 
With only three of the team’s 16 players in their first year of college basketball, the experience inherent in Longwood’s roster has made for a productive preseason. From the team’s annual Blue-White Scrimmage to closed scrimmages against VMI and William & Mary, the Lancers’ early identity is shaping up to be one of immense potential on the offensive end coupled with a gritty, hard-nosed approach defensively that has become their calling card under Aldrich.
 
Jordan Perkins“During the preseason, our scrimmages against William & Mary and VMI taught us a lot about ourselves,” Aldrich said. “But overall, what we’ve really tried to work on has been, number one, really laying out and explaining the keys for what we believe we have to do individually and collectively to be successful. Those are effort, playing with purpose, focus on the details, and generally maintaining high expectations for ourselves and a desire to execute at a high level.”
 
Those expectations, from the on-court Xs and Os to Aldrich’s foundational, non-negotiable principles of Longwood basketball, will be put to the test Tuesday against an Iowa team that was among the best in the nation in 2020-21. Finishing at No. 7 in the NCAA NET Rankings after a third-place finish in the Big Ten and an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, the Fran McCaffery-led Hawkeyes boast a veteran-laden roster of their own with three fifth-year seniors, and returning starters Jordan Bohannon and Connor McCaffery.
 
“It’s a great opportunity for our guys to play on a bigger stage, to go to Iowa and play in front of a crowd that will no doubt have a lot of pent-up enthusiasm from missing out on all of last season,” Aldrich said.
 
“But again, our mantra can’t change. That’s to continue to get better and focus on the process. While the pieces on this particular roster are different, and I’m certainly excited about what I’ve seen, it’s more about who they are and their desire to be good individually and collectively. We’re going to focus on the process and continue to work to be a great team.”
 
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