Leave a legacy.
Those words are written on a wall inside Elon University’s men’s basketball locker room. reminding team members of the group’s goal this season.
Senior forward Chuck Hannah said the legacy defining moment for this year’s team would be qualifying for the school’s first ever NCAA Tournament.
“The biggest legacy I’ve always wanted to leave since I entered college was to go to March Madness,” Hannah said. “And with the team we have, we definitely have a real shot at making that happen.”
Last season, the Phoenix reached its first ever Colonial Athletic Association Tournament championship game as an eight seed. Though the team lost, falling just one game short of an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament, it was the closest the program has ever been to reaching March Madness.
While Elon has the memories of last season to draw back on, head coach Mike Schrage said the team has already shifted its full attention to this season.
“We’re not going to talk a lot about last year, but we’re going to remember it,” Schrage said. “In the back of our minds is going to that first NCAA Tournament in Elon history, and that’s the biggest legacy we can leave.”
Elon returns several key players from last year’s CAA Tournament run, including junior guard and leading scorer Hunter McIntosh, junior guard Hunter Woods, sophomore guard Darius Burford and sophomore forward Michael Graham.
The Phoenix also welcomes back two explosive scorers from injury: junior guard Zac Ervin, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL, and redshirt senior guard Jerald Gillens-Butler, who missed the final 16 games of last season with a ruptured achilles tendon.
McIntosh said the Phoenix’s depth is one of its biggest strengths and that the team’s balanced offense will create challenges for opposing defenses.
“Hopefully, it could be an advantage over a lot of other teams,” McIntosh said. “They can’t really just scheme for one or two players, they have to scout our whole team.”
Schrage said one of the team’s main goals is to earn a bye in this season’s CAA Tournament, meaning the Phoenix will need to finish in the top six of the conference’s regular season standings — something the program has not yet done in his tenure as head coach.
Hannah said Elon is no longer an underdog program and needs to get off to a better start to its conference season in order to build momentum for the postseason.
“It was great to go on that run last year, but I think we have to understand that we’re not the little engine that could anymore,” Hannah said. “We don’t want to dig ourselves into holes and try to fight out of them.”
The Phoenix has a challenging non-conference schedule, highlighted by a game against West Virginia University at the Charleston Classic on Nov. 18, as well as road games against the University of North Carolina and University of Arkansas in December.
“We’ve got a big time schedule,” McIntosh said. “We play some big time teams and I think the biggest thing is it is going to prepare us for our conference,”
With 10 of 16 players being upperclassmen, Schrage said the team’s experience and chemistry will play a crucial role this season.
“As we go through tough times this season, as every team’s going to no matter what, we’ve got to stay together,” Schrage said. “We’ve got an amazingly together group right now.”