You know it’s basketball season when both the men’s and women’s teams are practicing from 3:00-7:00 in both gyms, and it becomes increasingly difficult to play routine pick-up games. You also notice increasing numbers of players emerging from the dreaded training tables. Practice officially started on Oct. 12, and the Tars have already played Wake Forest, a member of Division One’s Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), in an exhibition game and the University of Florida in a closed scrimmage. Coach Tom Klusman’s squad hung tough with the four-time ACC regular-season champs, eventually losing 73-66. No stats were taken during the closed scrimmage but, by all accounts, the Tars once again held their own against the two-time national champion Gators.
Klusman will enter his 33rd season as the Tars’ head coach this year. A former player at Rollins, he graduated in 1976 and soon became the youngest coach in school history in 1980. Klusman’s teams have prided themselves on shooting and defense. The Tars consistently rank among the conference and national leaders in three-point field goal percentage and scoring defense. With 590 career wins, he is one of the most successful coaches at any level of basketball. However, there is one thing that his teams have yet to accomplish: winning a national championship.
According to three of the Tars’ top players, a national championship is certainly within their grasp this season. Forward David Diakite ‘14, who averaged 10.2 points per game last season on a team that finished with a disappointing 16-11 record, believes the Tars can do just that. “We can be really good. We can win this whole thing,” Diakite said. University of Florida transfers Kyle McClanahan and Adam Allen are no strangers to success, having come within a few minutes of going to the Final Four in 2010. “We have a lot of good talent on the team. It’s going to be a lot of work, but the sky’s the limit for what we can accomplish this year,” McClanahan said.
The Tars certainly have plenty of experience to make a deep tournament run, with no true freshmen and six Division One transfers, with four being new to the Tars’ program. McClanahan played for Winter Park High School where he was the school’s all-time leading scorer until former-Duke and current New Orleans Hornets star Austin Rivers broke the record in 2011. After being recruited by Rollins and smaller Division One schools during his senior year of high school, he chose to walk-on at the University of Florida, where he appeared in 33 games over three seasons. He chose to sit out last year so that he could save his one year of eligibility and play at Rollins.
Adam Allen, a graduate-student who has experienced numerous knee surgeries over his injury-plagued career, was granted a second chance by the Rollins program and is grateful for the opportunity to be able to compete again and to go finish his career with one of his former teammates at Florida, McClanahan. “It’s awesome. He’s one of my best friends and for me to be on the same team … have a part in the program and actually play a lot together, it’s great! We have great chemistry on the court and I’m really looking forward to playing with him this season,” Allen said with anticipation in his voice.
Mitch Woods ‘15, a transfer from Appalachian State, is expected to contribute immediately and follow in his father’s footsteps by playing for Klusman. He was the leading scorer for the Tars against Wake Forest with 14 points, so the coaching staff is excited to see what he will bring to the season.
Brett Chance ‘13, who was injured last season, transferred from Canisius College three years ago and will be relied on for experience and leadership this season. Lukas Winegarner ‘15, who came to Rollins via Radford University, is a talented interior player who is expected to contribute off the bench.
Finally, Diakite, who originally transferred to Rollins from UCF, may be the most explosive player the Tars have ever had. A dunk last season versus Webber International was being considered for the ESPN2 Dunk of the Year. When asked about the potential of having a starting lineup of all Division One transfers, he responded, “It’s a possibility. [And] if it happens, it’s going to be something really special.” One thing’s for sure: you’d be hard-pressed to find another team outside Divison One with five starters who have competed at the highest level of college hoops.
Klusman believes there are some distinct differences between this year’s and last year’s teams. “The makeup of our team is different [this season]. We had so many new people that didn’t know what we were doing and [we] really had trouble getting them all to do their job[s] [last season],” he stated. This season there is a better sense of communication amongst the players and coaches, which should help continuity on the court. “We only have four new players (McClanahan, Allen, Woods and Winegarner) … and that makes a big difference,” the head coach remarked. In basketball, there are two things you cannot teach: experience and height. The Tars have both and they’re looking forward to getting their season underway. Certainly the players believe Diakite’s words: “We can win this whole thing.”