The Kentucky Wesleyan College men’s basketball team is rolling with the momentum.
The Panthers, after reaching the Great Midwest Athletic Conference tournament championship game, head into the offseason with plans for even more improvement in 2020-21.
“It was a great run,” said KWC coach Drew Cooper. “It was the most rewarding week of basketball that I’ve had in my two years here. It was the first time that we won three games in a row. ... The next best would’ve been four in a row, we just didn’t get it done.
“I think starting from scratch and then less than two years later being a game away from the NCAA Tournament is a good start. We’re hoping for some great retention this year and continuing to add some pieces to the puzzle and be even better next year.”
Wesleyan finished its season 13-16 and entered the postseason with a 9-9 conference record — giving the Panthers the league’s eighth seed by virtue of the G-MAC point-rating system.
Following a 79-76 come-from-behind victory over Tiffin in the regular-season finale, KWC upended top-seeded Hillsdale 80-72 in the opening round and knocked off No. 5 seed Malone 81-79 in overtime in the semifinals. The Panthers fell 69-48 to third-seeded Walsh in the conference title game.
“It was nice to see an evolution of a team that knew we could compete with anybody in the conference,” Cooper said of his squad’s season-long growth. “It was figuratively right there on the tip of our tongue all season long. We knew we were out-gunned and out-manned in year one, but as we got going this year, there was just a feel that this was a team that had the ability to go out and beat anyone in our conference.”
Now, Cooper is hoping that success translates onto the recruiting trail — but he’ll have to wait until at least April 15 to resume recruiting, due to a dead period mandated by the NCAA on Saturday in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It really is a scary time,” Cooper said. “I think coaches are beginning to really grasp and be fully aware of what our responsibility is as members of society, making sure we’re doing our part to keep our student-athletes and others safe.”
Once he can get back out on the road and contact recruits, however, Cooper has a clear vision for the future.
“We’re losing (leading scorer) Adam Goetz,” Cooper said, noting the senior guard’s team-high 16.7 points per game. “I’m not as worried about replacing his points per game as I am about replacing his toughness. I’m not just talking about how tough he is in games. That kid really set the tone for us for how a program is supposed to practice.
“When your best player practices the way Adam Goetz practices, all I can hope for at this point is to make sure the Jo Griffins, the Wyatt Battailes and the Zach Hopewells fully learned from Adam about what a competitive practice is supposed to look like. I’d be shocked if they didn’t.”
The first step of Cooper’s recruiting plans came in November, when the Panthers signed South Oldham senior Luke Morrison. The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 21 points per game on 54% shooting from the field, 45% from 3-point distance and 85% at the foul line in helping the Dragons go 23-10.
“We’ve added one of the best players in the state,” Cooper said. “Every time we saw Luke play, he was so closely guarded. He was the most valuable player in (the 8th Region) as a junior, and he missed it by one vote this year. I know Luke will step in and compete for minutes.”
Aside from Morrison, Wesleyan’s coaches anticipate signing anywhere from four to six more recruits during the offseason — with an emphasis on point guards and power forwards.
“We’re just trying to get the most well-rounded and tough basketball players we can get,” Cooper said.