Lehigh men’s basketball is entering the season placing second in the Patriot League polls after suffering a first-round exit to Lafayette in the Patriot League playoffs last season.
The team will start their season against Cornell at home on Nov. 6.
Last season’s senior guards Evan Taylor, Reed Fenton and Jake Betlow have left, but the Mountain Hawks roster will feature four new first-years, including Minnesota’s “Mr. Basketball,” Nasir Whitlock.
Junior guard and preseason All-Patriot League honoree Keith Higgins spoke highly of Whitlock.
“The main thing I love about (Whitlock) is his energy,” Higgins said. “We all know he’s really talented and he’s skillful, he can make tough shots, and I love the energy that I’ve seen from him so far.”
With only three seniors playing for over 10 minutes a game last season, the team’s new makeup is looking to take a leap this season.
Coach Harry Morra said he believes the team’s chemistry will improve and mistakes will decrease this season. He said this is partly due to the coaches challenging the team through difficult drills and other training that are meant to bring the players together.
“We make the drills very, very difficult so that they have to come together through adversity,” Morra said. “Your players need to be connected. They need to be bonded, and be like a family and that all comes from trust.”
The Mountain Hawks backcourt, consisting of seniors Higgins and Jalin Sinclair, along with junior preseason All-Patriot League honoree Tyler Whitney-Sidney and Whitlock, has drawn attention ahead of the season.
Whitney-Sidney said he has improved this offseason by watching film and applying his experience of the past two seasons while breaking down the footage.
Though the frontcourt has gotten less play time, senior forward and center Dominic Parolin said he is looking to contribute more as the younger players gain more experience.
“I think we have to play it by ear right now because our front court is so inexperienced,” Parolin said. “We have (JT Tan) and (Henri Adiassa) who both played a little bit last year but really don’t have too much experience — with (Tan) dealing with injuries, he hasn’t really played much, but he’s super talented.”
Lehigh’s schedule this season starts with 11 non-league games, with matchups against Penn State and North Carolina scheduled for Nov. 10 and 12.
Despite the stiff non-league competition, Morra said he is optimistic about being stacked up against those teams.
“We have really good guard play, and to beat the power five conference teams you have to have very good guard play,” Morra said. “They have to be able to break pressures, they have to be able to collapse the defense, they have to be able to get into the paint.”
Higgins also expressed confidence going into the season against those teams. He said anything can happen in college basketball.
After the first 11 games, Patriot League play will start with a game against American on Jan. 3. Lehigh will face its long-time conference rival, Lafayette, on Feb. 10 and 24.
“Lehigh-Lafayette is always going to be a good rivalry,” Higgins said. “As a player, I think of it as just another game for us to get better and I feel like if we do see them in the playoffs we’re going to make the adjustments needed.”
Ultimately, Whitney-Sidney said the Mountain Hawks have high expectations after being ranked highly going into the season.
“We continue to be making great strides, and I think this is the year for us,” Whitney-Sidney said.