This season has seen several new faces to the Elon men’s basketball team — with five of them being freshmen, including two walk ons. Head coach Billy Taylor said freshman Max Mackinnon is a big part of what Taylor wants to build for Elon’s program.
“Max has been huge. He’s had a huge impact on our team. He’s a guy that can touch the paint with a basketball,” Taylor said. “So whether it’s dribble, drives or post-ups, he’s not afraid to be called out and he can go and finish so I guess another ball handler that can make plays and make decisions.”
Mackinnon is from Brisbane, Australia, and said adapting his game to American style has been one of his biggest challenges.
“It’s a different game style coming from Australia to college basketball, so I’m just trying to get used to it all and just what to do in just trying to learn the game and get used to it,” Mackinnon said.
Taylor said he has seen Mackinnon’s struggle to adjust to playing in America, but despite the style change, he has been effective for the team.
“Every time he steps on the floor, there’s a huge learning curve in terms of how teams are playing and style of play, physicality, kind of intensity, emotion,” Taylor said. “So he’s learning all that right now, but he’s given us a lot of good things on the floor and I know he’s going to continue to get better for us.”
Freshman forward Deandre Smart from Savannah, Georgia, has shown great ability inside the paint, according to Taylor.
“At first, I was really nervous,” Smart said. “I didn’t know what to expect, what was going to happen, but I just went out there and just played as hard as I could.”
Smart’s teammates are also excited for his potential, as junior forward JaDun Michael said Smart stood out to him in practices even before the season started as a player that will be great for the next few years.
“He’s a freshman. So of course he makes little, small mistakes where he just — in terms of physicality — wants to get better. It’s just hard to teach what he has. And I think once he begins to understand the importance of each possession, especially in a college game, I think he’ll be one of those guys it’s just like ‘Wow, he’s really good,’” Michael said.
But during Elon’s game against North Dakota State University, Smart went down with a knee injury. Soon after, it was found that it was an ACL tear. Taylor said losing him was a big loss for a team already without a lot of size.
“It’s huge. I mean, obviously someone who was a double figure scorer and was leading rebounder,” Taylor said. “So you take a guy like that out of the lineup in a season where we’re a little bit short handed anyway, to lose somebody like that who was really having a meaningful freshman. Impact was tough, but he’ll bounce back or recover, and we’ll come back over the next year.”
As the season continues, Taylor said these freshmen will look to grow, as the process to develop a winning program won’t happen overnight.
“It’s through recruitment and coaching and development. So it’s just all part of the journey, and it’s a tough part right now,” Taylor said. “But thankfully, we have support administratively, support from the fans that are showing up, and I know more will show up as we continue to put a good product on the floor. So we’re just working to build toward it.”