Growing up, every young athlete’s dream is to go to Disneyland after a big win. Over this past weekend, the SPU men’s basketball team saw that fantasy become a reality after three decisive victories in three games at the Disney Tip-Off Classic in Anaheim, Calif.
“After [Saturday’s] game, we got to go to Disneyland for about six hours, and having that experience with your team is something you’ll never forget,” senior point guard David Downs said.
The team started out its tournament schedule with a matchup against Cal State Dominguez Hills on Friday afternoon, which they won handily with a final score of 79-65.
They then took on Lindenwood of St. Charles, Miss., the next morning, coming out on top at 72-58. They completed the trifecta on Sunday evening with a 66-55 defeat of Texas A&M International.
“It’s a tournament we’ve tried to get into for a number of years, but for various reasons it never worked out,” head coach Ryan Looney said. “So when we were asked about a year ago around this time if we’d be interested in playing, we obviously jumped on it, and feel fortunate that we did because we got to play three quality teams.”
To culminate their tournament experience, the team spent all of Monday once again at the Disney resort, further bonding together before they headed back to Seattle after officially beginning this 2013-2014 season.
“The key to success this year is just taking one game at a time and not losing focus,” junior post Cory Hutsen said. “Not taking any game too lightly or looking past one game for another.”
For the Falcons, the number two is a recurring theme. They are currently ranked second nationally for Division II in the coaches’ poll. Their senior court leader, conference player of the year and preseason All-American Downs sports a 2 on the back of his jersey. And for the last two years, the team has won two games in the NCAA Tournament before ultimately losing to its Great Northwest Athletic Conference rival Western Washington.
This year the ultimate goal is to live up to the No. 1 national ranking that Sporting News magazine gave them in their preseason poll.
This weekend’s results in Anaheim were an encouraging first step in that journey.
“Something we’ve learned in the first few games is that we’re definitely a different team,” Downs said. “We’re not the same team we were last year. We lost some pretty big pieces, but we have some other new interesting pieces.”
One of those pieces has been the promotion of Hutsen to the starting post role, in replacement of departed senior Andy Poling.
The six-foot-eight-inch former redshirt has taken the transition in stride, scoring 24 points in an exhibition game against Concordia two weeks ago and averaging 10 points and 3.3 rebounds in the Disney Tip-Off Classic.
“It’s been nice knowing my role now,” Hutsen said. “I had been coming off the bench a lot before and not knowing how much I would play, so it’s been nice to take on a bigger part for the team.”
Downs, who averaged 25 points per game in the tournament and earned GNAC Player of the Week honors, has also taken on a new role of senior mentor for his teammates, both on the court and off.
“I’ve learned a lot over the last three years, so I feel more than anything, I have a role this year to share with the guys some stuff based on past experiences,” Downs said. “It’s been a blast so far.”
Overall, Downs said the team is committed to improving every game and reaching its peak at the end of the season.
As far as the No. 1 ranking goes, the guys aren’t letting the hype get to their heads.
“Obviously it’s cool to be recognized that high, but it just means we’re going to get everybody’s best shot every night,” Hutsen said. “We can’t take anybody lightly, because everyone’s treating us like we’re the biggest game on their schedule.”
The Falcons open up their home schedule this weekend by hosting the Sodexo Tip-Off Classic at Brougham Pavilion.
They will take the floor against Colorado Christian on Friday at 7 p.m. and Dixie State on Saturday at the same time.