Tenth-ranked in the nation, Elmhurst University men’s basketball secured their fifth consecutive win of the season and set new school records in effort “to win Conference and the National Championship.”
Starting the season with all gas and no brakes, the team has beaten five opponents by 20 points or more, backing up their words with action. By “taking it one game at a time,” EU has their eyes on the prize.
Head Coach John Baines believes the men’s Bluejay basketball team is capable of winning the CCIW Tournament.
“We have the ability to beat every team, as well as the capacity to lose to all of them,” said Baines. “If we play like we are capable, we figure to be in the mix.”
His “experienced and mature” roster started their season with one goal in mind.
At the home opener against Kalamazoo College, senior guard Jake Rhode kicked off the first game of the season with 28 points and a new career assists school record.
“Individual and team goals go hand and hand. We believe this can be a very similar season like the one we had two years ago,” said Rhode.
In the 2019-20 season, the Bluejays advanced to the NCAA Tournament before the championship was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Coming off a shortened 2020-21 season by only playing each CCIW team once, COVID-19 impacted their last season in more ways than one.
“Now that fans and family are allowed to spectate, it really helps us out,” said Wesley Hooker, junior guard. “We are already a very exciting team and full of energy, so when we’re able to get the crowd going with us, it really motivates us to win.”
With the fans on their mind and wishing for another championship ring, EU is determined to finish what they started during their last full schedule.
On average, the men’s basketball team is scoring 84 points per game this season with a current game high of 107 points against Principia College on Nov. 13.
With two wins at home games and three wins at away games, the team has been handing out losses to not only Kalamazoo and Principia, but also Illinois Institute of Technology, St. Norbert College, and Alma College.
“Every game I play, I want to play well for my team. I believe if we keep getting better the way we are, we could definitely win the CCIW ’ship,” said Lavon Thomas, senior stretch forward. “I just want to keep the winning tradition going.”
Finding his groove this season, Thomas scored double digits against Principia and IIT, almost finishing both games with a double-double in points and rebounds.
Alongside Thomas is senior guard, Dominic Genco, who was two points short of scoring double digits in all five games.
Genco led in scoring against Principia finishing with 19 points. Thomas followed right behind him with 18 points. A total of six Bluejays finished with double digits including Wesley Hooker, Ocean Johnson, Jay Militello, and Hunter Merritt.
“As a senior, my biggest takeaway has been trying to enjoy the little things that make being a student athlete so unique like having team meals and traveling together,” said Genco.
The team’s chemistry is apparent on and off the court as many of the players have been with each other for years. Training together, traveling together, and even preserving during COVID-19 has made this team “confident and very experienced.”
Despite their successful start to the season ahead, the players are not complacent.
“Complacency hasn’t been an issue and I don’t foresee it being one,” said Baines. “We are simply trying to do what we do, better.”
Rhode believes the team should continue taking it one game at a time because any game can make or break a season.
Their first conference game will be held on Dec. 4, against Wheaton College, who is ranked sixth in the nation according to D3hoops.com’s preseason top-25 poll.
Until then, the Bluejays have two remaining non-conference competitions against Buena Vista University and Calvin University.
“Just keep watching us, we are going to have a great season,” said Hooker.