The 2015-16 Park University men's basketball season begins tonight against Texas Wesleyan University in Olathe at 6 p.m. Watch the game live at www.mnusports.com/watch, or follow live stats by visiting the Pirates' men's basketball schedule page. Until game time, check out our preview of the 2015-16 season…
Uncertainty and potential are terms that can energize a fanbase and drive a coach crazy at the same time. That's where the gage sits for Park University head men's basketball coach Jason Kline, who enters his 11th season with 318 career wins, 178 on the sideline at Park.
"We have good players, and we have a lot of talent," Kline said. "But we also have guys who weren't seeing meaningful minutes last season, so it can create a lot of uncertainty and we might have some growing pains early in the season. What won't change is that we'll play a high-energy style and if we're successful, it'll be because we defend and rebound well. If we don't do those things, we'll struggle in some games."
The Pirates' biggest comeback story is preseason NAIA All-American and 2013-14 All-American Xavielle Brown, who gets to hit the restart button on his junior season after missing all of the 2014-15 campaign. Brown was the leading scorer in the American Midwest Conference as a sophomore in 2013-14, averaging 19.8 points per game.
Mylin Jordan was also named a preseason All-American by The Sporting News after averaging 18.1 points per game last season, and he's expected to contribute as the season progresses, as is BJ Watson, who missed all but four games a year ago, averaging 15.3 points in games that all occurred prior to Thanksgiving in 2014-15. John Kotsanos also returns at the center position from last season, nearly reaching 10 points per game after averaging 9.6 points and 6.6 rebounds per contest.
"We certainly have experienced players back, and guys we can turn to," Kline said. "Xavielle was the heart and soul of everything two years ago, and we definitely missed his presence last year. He's a leader, and we need him to continue to lead on this team in 2015-16."
The Pirates also have a double-digit scorer returning for his final season after last playing in 2012-13, as Noel Surles averaged 10 points per game in 11 contests with nine starts in a near miss of the NAIA National Tournament for the Pirates in 2012-13, a team that was the first in Park men's basketball history to win more than 20 games and still miss the NAIA postseason.
Two key newcomers – Dalton Rose and Kevin Gunter – are both expected to contribute in the early going, as well, after playing junior college basketball in the Jayhawk Conference. Rose is a Fort Scott product, while Gunter was a teammate of Watson's at Hutchinson Community College. A baseball standout – Alec Rash – could also be a contributor as the season moves forward, transferring to the Pirates from the University of Missouri, where he was a standout pitcher in the Tigers' baseball program. Rash was drafted out of high school by the Philadelphia Phillies and is expected to pitch for the Park baseball program in the spring.
"The problem with question marks and uncertainty is that we don't play the kind of schedule that allows you to test the water a whole lot," Kline said. "We begin with a team that has become a household name at Municipal Auditorium at the NAIA tournament in Texas Wesleyan, and if we're able to get by them, it's MidAmerica Nazarene on MNU's floor. After that, it's two good teams from the Heart and we go right in to conference games. We just don't have a lot of time to get it right, so we'll have to rely on these guys to get it right away."
The Pirates begin the 2015-16 season Thursday, November 5 at MNU's Bell Family Arena in Olathe, against Texas Wesleyan at 6 p.m. If the Pirates beat the Rams, they'll play in the MNU tournament championship, likely against the host Pioneers. The Pirates could also play Ozark Christian College, Friday, November 6. If Park plays MNU, the game is at 8 p.m., and if the game is against OCC, it starts at 6. MNU Athletics is providing live statistics and live video for the entire tournament.
After Park's opening weekend in Olathe, the Pirates play at home Monday, November 9, hosting Peru State College in Park's "Can Hunger in Kansas City" game to benefit Harvesters. Fans gain admission through two canned or boxed food items, or a cash donation, at the Breckon Sports Center gate. Park also has nonconference games against Benedictine (away, Nov. 14) and MNU (home, Nov. 24), while conference play begins on the road, Nov. 21, at St. Louis College of Pharmacy.