The Southern Oregon University men’s basketball team had substantial shoes to fill entering the season. Following last season’s run to the Elite 8 of the NAIA tournament, SOU lost NAIA All-American and all-time winningest players Eric Thompson and Tim Weber. But, similar to the women’s team, the men were not left completely scathed with their veteran departures. Senior point guard Joel Spear and preseason all-CCC selections Ben DeSaulnier and Jordan West return for the starting lineup, in addition to eight reserve returners.
The Southern Oregon University Raider men’s basketball team has began the season 4-1, with their only official loss coming to NAIA 4th-ranked Arizona Christian University. The Raiders have also lost two exhibition games to Division 1 program, Oregon and Division 2 Humboldt State. So far, despite losing Weber and Thompson, the Raiders have figured out an effective offense, shooting 51 percent from the field and 43 percent from beyond the arc.
Sophomore Ben DeSaulnier attributes this to experience, “This year we have come together as a team much faster and gelled much quicker than last year. A big part of that is because we have so many returners and we understand the offense and defense and aren’t having to start at ground zero.”
Prior to the season, coach Brian McDermott echoed a similar message via SOU Athletics: “In terms of being able to run our stuff and offensive execution, I’d say we’re way ahead of where we were at this time last year – it’s kind of night and day… It’s a nice mix because we have a large group of experienced guys with some talented freshman who’ve come in.”
So far this season, DeSaulnier, Spear, and West have transitioned well into their upgraded roles. Ben DeSaulnier, a sophomore, is leading SOU in scoring with 20.8 points per game, while senior Jordan West is second with 15.4 points. Point guard Joel Spear has been entrusted to take the reigns from Weber, who either scored or assisted on 43 percent of SOU’s baskets last year. Thus far, he has done so, averaging 12.6 points, in addition to 6.8 assists per game, which is fourth in NAIA.
DeSaulnier understands the stakes are higher, but winning is still the priority. “We are taking a much bigger role this year, and I think each of us have done a pretty good job of embracing that. At the same time though, we also realize that it is going to be someone different almost every night. Each of us are very unselfish and are all about winning.”
SOU begins Cascade Conference play in two weeks at Ashland High on December 5th and 6th against Corban and Northwest Christian. In the meantime, they will hone their skills on the road with tournaments in Klamath Falls and California.
As far as season aspirations, DeSaulnier and the team are confident, but know they must focus on improving. “Our goal this year is just to take it one game at a time and get better after every practice and game. As cheesy as that sounds, that was our goal last year as well. As long as we are getting better every practice and every game, the other things will work themselves out.”