This article was originally published in ZU News.
The men’s basketball team will return only two starters from last year as they look to improve from their 16-15 record of last season. Fortunately, the two starters that are returning are both seniors that led the Cougars last year.
Senior forward Corey Langerveld averaged 12.9 points per game, 4.5 rebounds per game and 1.3 assists per game last year. Langerveld trained to be more aggressive in the offseason.
“I’m trying to develop an aggressive mindset. I need to get to the free throw line a lot more. A lot of the workouts I did were focusing on seeking contact, going to the rim and not just settling for three pointers,” Langerveld said.
The Cougars have played two exhibition games so far. They lost to The Master’s , the fifth ranked team in the NAIA division, by a score of 75-87. APU won their second game against Westcliff 92-49.
“Going into that game, we knew that it was really just about finding our rhythm. We’re a relatively new team, in that half the guys that are going to be playing a lot are brand new,” Langerveld said. “We worked on specific plays and actions that coach wanted us to develop on offense. It was a good opportunity for us to go out and play with one another against another team.”
A total of 12 players got the chance to play against Westcliff. For some, it was their first time getting playing time in a game for APU.
Head coach Justin Leslie said that the team is still working on their chemistry.
“I think we had a good productive offseason with our returners and with the younger guys as well who will be stepping into bigger roles this year,” Leslie said. “We do have some transfers that are going to play significant roles for us that I’m excited about. We just have to develop the chemistry. There’s no substitute for time. We’re going to be a work in progress for a while, but I like what we have and ultimately it’s going to add up to a good group.”
The Cougars first two games of the season are against UC San Diego and Cal Poly Pomona, on Nov. 10-11. Leslie said that the team will need to play very well in these games.
“They’re both really good so we’ll need to play really well. We need to guard. I think we’ve got a chance to be a good defensive team, to be physical and hard to penetrate. That’s something that I’m looking to lean on early,” Leslie said. “On the offensive side we need to get in the paint and have good decision making. We can’t just sit outside and chuck three’s. We’ve got to put pressure on the heart of the defense. We’re working hard on that.”
Senior forward Petar Kutlesic noted the efforts the team has made to improve.
“A lot of guys are new to the offense and new to the system,” Kutlesic said. “They might be putting too much pressure on themselves right now, but that’s normal for the beginning of the season. Once everybody knows their role, we’ll be fine.”
The Pacific West conference preseason rankings were released last week. APU was projected to finish fifth in the conference.
“If you don’t think you’re going to finish higher, then I don’t think you have the right mindset going in. At the same time, we have a lot of new guys, so it’s going to be a process to get where we need to be,” Langerveld said. “We’re not in PacWest championship form right now. It’s more about getting to embrace the process of getting to where we need to be as a team. I think fifth is a good reflection of how we played last year. I don’t think anyone feels disrespected by that. I think we’ll finish higher.”
Leslie gave less regard to the preseason ranking.
“To be perfectly honest, I think the whole preseason poll is a joke. We don’t do anything to publish our recruiting. Every year it’s ironic that no newcomers make the all-conference team [in the preseason poll] and every year the all-conference team has newcomers on it when the end of the year rolls around,” Leslie said. “I don’t think it’s a very accurate indicator of what’s actually going to transpire in the season. I put no stock in it whatsoever. Frankly, teams that focus on their preseason don’t usually do too well in the postseason.”
Both Langerveld and Kutlesic said they were looking forward to the games against Cal Baptist the most. Langerveld said he’s excited to go to their new arena and Kutlesic said he wants to beat them one last time, before they move to Division I next year. Leslie is looking forward to a different matchup.
“I’m really excited about it. It’s something that I lived through for a lot of years as a player and a coach. It’s the type of rivalry that we need. It brings out the best in both schools. That’s one of the highlights of the season, having them back in the conference.”