With the men’s basketball season arriving, head coach Billy Taylor looks to lead the team as he starts year two. For the first season of Taylor’s era, the team finished last spring with 8-24 and 6-12 in conference play.
“There's a lot of work that comes to get to the top of the mountain, and you can't shortcut any of the steps along the way,” Taylor said.
Taylor said he doesn’t believe the record told the full story as the team was shorthanded with a small roster and then some injuries. Now the team brings in six new freshmen and two transfers.
“The six freshmen bring so many different traits to the table, but I think if you look at their backgrounds, the common theme with our freshmen is they’re winners,” Taylor said. “When you're bringing that winning into our program, into our culture, into our DNA, in terms of what makes our program successful, it's guys that understand how to win and the sacrifices that you have to make in order to be a championship level program.”
With the increase of freshmen, Taylor said he wanted to find a player in the transfer portal to help lead the team at point guard, so he went out and found Rob Higgins, a graduate transfer from St. Francis Brooklyn College. Taylor said Higgins is a guy the team can lean on.
“I think we did really well for ourselves in the portal by getting Robbie Higgins, we knew we needed a veteran point guard, kind of a senior leader, someone that had been through the battles,” Taylor said. “If we're going to take the young players that we did, we needed somebody in the back court that's been through it and can really help us that we can lean on.”
Higgins said the freshmen have been putting in the work during the summer as the season has approached and that fans will be able to see it.
“I've been trying to just lead these guys. And it's very easy to lead this young group,” Higgins said. “ They're soaking up knowledge like a sponge every time I'm talking.”
Another one of the new freshmen is Taylor’s own son, who attended The Burlington School last year. Billy said it has been great to coach his son over the years starting all the way back in elementary school and now being his college coach brings a whole new perspective.
“It's definitely a unique challenge, and we talked about that going into it,” Taylor said. “There are different hats that we have to wear in our relationship and just kind of understanding that different different situations call for different types of relationships and we're just learning and growing through that process.”
Even with all the new faces, Taylor said he was still able to keep a core of his previous roster together and he said they are going to be strong leaders for this year's team.
“I think those guys have all taken a step in their leadership. I think they just feel more comfortable. Because even though I didn't technically recruit them out of high school, I had to re-recruit every single one of them to stay here at Elon,” Taylor said. “Those guys believed in what we were talking about. And they've been able to be impactful for us, on the court, but also in the locker room, in the weight room on campus, they really have been great leaders, and it's been fun to see.”
One of those faces is junior forward Sam Sherry, who looks to build off a successful sophomore season. Taylor said Sherry has impressed him all summer and looks to him to play a big part in the middle.
“Sam grew so much last year, in terms of the development on the floor, obviously, he's a really talented player. We love his length and his skill set,” Taylor said. “He built some confidence, he really blossomed into a very impactful player for us. I think that confidence level, understanding again, what we're doing, the spacing, the timing of our actions, where he can get catches and how teams are going to play him.”
Another one familiar face on the team is sophomore guard Max Mackinnon, the 2022 Coastal Athletic Association rookie of the year. Billy said he is impressed with the work Mackinnon is doing to prepare for the season.
“Max really put in a lot of time over the offseason, you know, he wanted to get his body physically ready,” Taylor said. “I was so impressed by what he learned and how he absorbed information and was able to be productive on the floor. Now in year two now it's about leadership. It's about giving direction, communicating with guys and holding guys to a standard of excellence, which I think Max can really do.”
The Phoenix won its home opener against East Tennessee State University on Nov. 9 and look to take on North Dakota at 2 p.m. Nov. 12 in Grand Forks, North Dakota.