For more on college basketball, follow Tom Davis via Twitter at www.twitter.com/Tom101010.
The IPFW men's basketball team won a program-record 25 games last season for a number of reasons, but none bigger than the fact former Mastodon coach Tony Jasick often said the group “led the nation in intangibles.”
What Jasick meant by that was the team shared a unique chemistry and everyone understood their roles and got along with each other tremendously. That cohesion had its roots tied to summer days spent at a lake cabin in Michigan owned by former IPFW forward Michael Kibiloski's family, when the team would trek up north and share laughs for a weekend.
That type of experience is what new Mastodon coach Jon Coffman hopes the team will have over the next week, as IPFW embarks on a three-game, five-day trip to Canada. The Mastodons open play tonight against McMaster University (in Hamilton, Ontario) at 7 p.m.
“I think (the experience) is more important than the basketball will be,” Coffman said. “Our goals coming into this were that we were going to grind some practices and really work on improving ourselves in practice. And then we were going to have fun.”
The Mastodons have worked their way through 10 practices over the past couple of weeks, but will enjoy activities like going to a comedy club in Toronto, paddle boarding on Lake Ontario and chilling at the beach over the next week.
During the recent workouts, Coffman has installed some philosophical tenets of his into the minds of his players. The main points being improved defense as a team and pace of play.
“I think we've had growth and understanding,” Coffman said. “I'm not sure that it's been growth and execution. But we've talked a lot about the pace that we want to play and practice at.”
A lot was learned last season by the nine returning players from three graduated seniors. However, watching those departed leaders, and then exhibiting leadership yourself, can be two different things. And Coffman is seeking growth in “communication” from his veteran players.
“We are a soft-spoken team,” Coffman said. “But we were a soft-spoken team last year. It's hard to have really successful seasons when you have small mouths.”
So how did the Mastodons win 25 games and come within mere seconds of getting to the NCAA Tournament?
“At the end of the day, I'm not sure that we had really vocal leaders last year, but what we did lose were three guys that could put the ball in the hole,” Coffman said, “and three guys that really played hard every time that they stepped on the floor. They led by their example.”
The positive for Coffman through the past couple of weeks is that he's seen potential by “any number of guys” to evolve into vocal leaders, but he admits that it is “a work in progress.”
Following tonight's game, the Mastodons will face York University (Toronto) Sunday and close the trip with a game against the University of Windsor Wednesday.
“We're looking for a cultural experience,” Coffman said. “There is more to the college experience than just basketball. There is an educational component. Our players are going to see a different culture, a different country, and a really, really cool city (Toronto).”
Earlier this summer, Scecina High School point guard T.J. Henderson verbally committed to IPFW, only to rescind the commitment days later. On Friday, he committed again, but this time to Summit League rival IUPUI in his hometown of Indianapolis.