Saturday nights in the fall are usually reserved for football, but Kentucky Wesleyan College flipped the script this past weekend.
The Wesleyan football team captured a crucial 41-21 win over William Jewell in an early-afternoon tilt, but the evening was reserved for the Panthers’ men’s basketball team to hit the floor at the Woodward Health and Recreation Center on campus.
Around 100 fans were on hand for KWC’s open hoops practice, in which the general public could get the first glimpse at KWC’s 2021-22 basketball team.
By the time the hour-long practice concluded, one thing was clear: The upcoming campaign could be special for this pack of Panthers.
Wesleyan, which has improved each season under coach Drew Cooper — entering his fourth season at the helm — is eyeing another step forward. With a team that has a wealth of returning experience, along with immediate-impact newcomers, expectations are high for the Panthers.
Since coming together on campus in late September, Cooper said, his team has been building its personality.
“It’s nice to have returners with multiple years of experience under their belt, and that’s kind of paved the way for a spirit of enthusiasm,” he said. “It has been, by far, the most fun September that I’ve had here, just because we have so many news guys who are clearly picking up habits from our guys who have been here.”
After going through limited drills, much of Saturday’s exhibition was in the form of a 20-minute intrasquad scrimmage.
Wyatt Battaile, a senior guard and the Panthers’ most productive returner, showed off an ability to knock down open shots on the perimeter. He emerged as a 40% 3-pointer shooter last season and looks ready to continue that trend.
Senior forward Nathan Boyle knocked down a string of four consecutive shots from behind the arc at one point, thriving in a pick-and-pop action that left him free at the 3-point line.
Ben Sisson, a 6-foot-6 junior forward, displayed his finishing touch around the rim, and his offseason work in the weight room will clearly help him outmuscle opponents around the paint.
Cooper pointed to Boyle and Sisson as two players that have stood out — both heading into this season and throughout their careers — for their work ethic.
“I see some of our returners that are clearly just better basketball players, like Ben Sisson and Nathan Boyle,” Cooper said. “Those are two kids that gave been here for multiple years, and they’re so bought into everything that we do, and they’re better for it.”
The newcomers are making their mark, too.
Antonio Thomas, a junior transfer point guard, showed his playmaking ability — often getting into the lane or setting up teammates for easy shots — but he also had a knack for finding open space to score in the midrange and at the basket.
JoMel Boyd, a 6-6 junior forward, got into the lane for some powerful
Edward Jones Jr., a 6-5 freshman forward, has a silky touch from outside, along with the athleticism to excel driving to the basket.
Of course, it wasn’t a flawless showing — but who wants to be playing their best basketball on Sept. 25? But, it showed how much promise Wesleyan possesses for this season, along with room to grow.
“We saw some glimpses of folks,” Cooper said. “I think we’re all excited, and we hope some of the people that came out can see that we’re going to be a pretty good basketball team.”
The potential is certainly there.