Demons’ 2018-19 season outlook is encouraging

2018-19 NSU basketball team.jpg
As his 20th season as the Northwestern State basketball coach begins, Mike McConathy sees reminders of past Demon teams, and that’s good.

A conversation with McConathy about the 2018-19 Demons doesn’t dwell on the tough times last season, but the core values and philosophies that have carried NSU to its greatest heights in over a century of basketball.

Watching his latest team prepare for the season, he’s seen a great work ethic, unselfishness, and depth. From day one with the Demons in 1999, McConathy’s approach has been “the MVP of our team IS our team.”

And while Preseason First-Team All-Southland Conference senior Ishmael Lane is unquestionably the Demons’ go-to guy this season, it’s the collective unit of stress-tested veterans and newcomers from championship programs who are combining to encourage their veteran coach in the run-up to 2018-19, which begins Tuesday night with a home game against Centenary at Prather Coliseum.

“I’ve seen a willingness to work hard and an understanding that we’ve got to compete every play. There’s a more concerted effort to make plays, and maybe that’s maturity, considering we played last year with eight newcomers, six freshmen. Now most of those guys are back and the new guys we’ve added all brought the right approach, as their backgrounds indicated they would,” says McConathy.

Lane will be the focal figure. His production is undeniably remarkable.

Last year, the 6-8 center/power forward was NSU’s leading scorer (13.7 points per game), rebounder (7.2 average), shot blocker (1.8 per game) and most accurate 3-point shooter (37.8 percent).

Lane ranks 31st on the school’s career scoring list (1,038 points), 23rd in rebounds (549) and eighth in blocked shots (101). If he matches last year’s totals, he can finish 12th all-time in scoring, eighth in rebounding and fourth in blocks.

But numbers don’t indicate his unselfish, hustling style displayed in his first three seasons, which hasn’t changed. It’s been a fine example for his younger teammates as the Demons plot a return to contention in the Southland.

The Demons will play McConathy’s way again, after personnel issues stemming from injuries all but eliminated depth vital to the NSU basketball brand in their coach’s two decades. Waves of five-out, five-in substitutions will be constant, in a system where players who don’t start could end up with as many, if not more, minutes than those in the first five, and the production could come from any one of a dozen or so wearing purple and white.

“I think it’ll be an ensemble approach,” said McConathy, asked who joins Lane at the forefront of opposing scouting reports. “In our wave system, when we were able to use it, you never knew where it was going to come from, but it gave somebody who had a hot hand the opportunity. The sum of our parts is greater than our individual ability. Our 10-11-12 guys with fresh legs gives us the best chance to beat seemingly more talented teams, or one that doesn’t go as deep into the rotation as we will.”

Seniors Malik Metoyer (knee surgery in his sophomore season) and DeAndre Love (an ankle injury sustained in his sophomore season that limited him to just 11 games ending last season) could be catalysts.

Sophomores C.J. Jones, Larry Owens and Darian Dixon played extensively in every game last season and are poised for bigger roles. Junior Brandon Hutton got 15 starts last year and flashed the skills that made him a national Top 150 prep recruit, while classmate Jacob Guest scored 11 at Texas and has displayed a much-welcomed perimeter shooting touch in preseason. Sophomore Vonte Ott continues to harness his speed and skills, a combination that can make him a valuable piece in the high-tempo style NSU likes.

Junior college transfer LaTerrance Reed will bolster the scoring punch and shooting aim, while also lending defensive tenacity, a strength of two freshmen, Brian White and Dalin Williams. Another frosh, Alex Cominita, could provide the deep range the Demons lost when all-time greats Zeek Woodley and Jalan West departed. All of those won major (state, and Canadian) championships in their pre-NSU careers.

It’s all an intriguing, evolving blend that will be tested in the first two months.

“We’ve got to get a couple wins early, get some confidence as we dive into a tough, tough non-conference schedule that can benefit us this year and going forward, if we handle it the right way,” said McConathy. “We don’t want to lose these guys before we see where they can get.

“We want the opportunity to compete at the highest level we possibly can, and gain confidence in areas we will need it this year. We have to make free throws; those are free points for the taking. We have to defend aggressively and create turnovers. If we do those things, we’ll be playing Demon basketball.”