After being picked second in the Patriot League poll, the Lehigh men’s basketball team opened their season against Cornell at Stabler Arena on Monday.
The Brown and White spoke with coach Brett Reed about what to watch out for with Lehigh this year and the current landscape of college basketball.
Question: Colgate has won each of the last three Patriot League titles. What will it take for a team to topple them?
Brett Reed: I really look at how our program has continued to grow and develop after the pandemic. (It) is a slow and steady, no-shortcuts approach to building what is an incredibly strong foundation. I think our kids are here for the right reasons. I think they’re thriving in the classroom, in the campus community and in leadership. And in each of our progressive years, we could see (that) this has been a step forward. Now, unfortunately, Colgate has been very strong and there’s been a gap between where we’ve been and where they’ve been, and they’ve just been stronger than us. But if you think about every subsequent step that we’ve taken to get this program to a very strong level that we’re accustomed to, and the fact that gap continues to narrow and narrow year after year, I believe we’re in a much stronger position to be able to be competitive. I want to make sure that I provide respect to them because they’ve done it. We’ve got to knock them off that competitive throne.
Q: Junior guards Keith Higgins Jr. and Tyler Whitney-Sidney were both named to the preseason All-Patriot League team. How have they grown from the past season?
BR: (Higgins) and (Whitney-Sidney) have grown tremendously over the course of their two years and now turning what they’re already demonstrating into this (season). They’re hopefully very productive (in their) junior year. Early in their career, as (first-years), they struggled a little bit, they weren’t seeing a lot of court time. Their perseverance and their decision-making, in many respects, have had a really solid character foundation, and their leadership potential is even growing into this year.
Q: Lehigh men’s basketball has benefitted from large student crowds in playoff games but that hasn’t translated much in the regular season. Why should Lehigh students come to basketball games?
BR: There is an element that a lot of our competitions take place when our students aren’t on campus. That can provide a challenge. But what we’d really like to see is the curiosity of our student body and the pride that they take in Lehigh University (and) coming together (in) early January and February to watch an incredible product that we have, with elite athletes playing at the highest level collegiately that’s available at the Division I level. I believe, once you get a taste for it and you see guys making unbelievable plays, it’s kind of fun to return.
Q: Last week, the NCAA announced the National Invitational Tournament passed new qualification rules that heavily restrict schools in smaller conferences like Lehigh from qualifying. Do you think that represents a growing gap between large state schools and places like Lehigh in college basketball?
BR: There’s been a very strong undercurrent about the profitability of college athletics, and there are many programs pursuing what can be tremendous revenue. Yet there are other schools, including some of those schools, that really value the support of the educational mission of the university and feel competitive and comprehensive athletics programming builds leadership and complements so much of what can be learned in the classroom. There havew been a number of significant changes in college athletics within the last couple of years. The NIT’s decision to no longer recognize regular season champions, in my opinion, is tied to chasing revenue that might be available from other sport programs. That’s disappointing because so many of these young men and women across so many different conferences dedicate so much and it’s already a challenge. Rewarding and recognizing excellence for multiple months of the season seems to be a little bit more overlooked for so many conferences.