The Elon University men’s basketball team had its struggles a year ago.
Injuries, the transition to the Colonial Athletic Association and post play were among them. The first is uncontrollable, but the latter two shouldn’t be of concern as the Phoenix sets sail on a new year.
The troubles of entering the CAA and the post play go hand in hand. Elon was facing stronger, more physical and more experienced players at the low block, and that was a tough transition to make.
Tony Sabato was just settling in to his new role as a frequent contributor, and both Ryan Winters and Brian Dawkins dealt with injuries. That left coach Matt Matheny no other option than to put 6-foot-7 wing Christian Hairston in the post.
Hairston, a junior, and Sabato, a senior, have both battled injuries in the last two months, but are better inclined to fill their roles this year.
And they’ll have some help.
Elon adds 6-foot-8 freshman Tyler Seibring, who started the team’s exhibition game and showed he can stretch out to the perimeter and shoot, along with 6-foot-11 freshman and Lithuania native Karolis Kundrotas.
“It reminds me of my freshman year,” said Hairston, likening this year’s team to the 2013-2014 group featuring 1,000-point scorers Lucas Troutman and Ryley Beaumont. “You come in — and I think both of [the freshmen] are doing a great job — you see where you can fit in and help the team.
“Tyler Seibring can really shoot the ball, and we saw that from day one. And Karolis can shoot the ball also, not to leave him out, but Tyler can really shoot. It’s all about finding the places where you can help and working as hard as you can.”
Dawkins sat out last season with knee issues and returns with three years of eligibility left. The 6-foot-8 forward played in 27 games as a freshman and averaged just 2.1 points and 1.7 rebounds per game, but it was widely thought that if he were to have been available last year, he would’ve strengthened Elon’s post presence as a rim protector.
He’s healthy now, which is what matters.
“He has really transformed his body,” Matheny said. “I think he was really rusty at the beginning of our August stuff, but I think he’s gotten better and better, and he’s been a bright spot.”
With Dawkins and Seibring presumably starting — as long as Sabato, who played just three minutes in the exhibition, is still riddled with injury — that leaves Hairston, Kundrotas and sophomore Jack Anton to come off the bench.
That easily could be Elon’s strongest post lineup in Matheny’s seven years at the helm.
As long as they stay healthy.