The beginning of basketball season at the University of Central Missouri is just one day away and Mules fans will have two opportunities to watch the 2018 squad play at home this weekend.
The Mules are coming off a 20-10 season and were challenged with replacing two of the three top-scorers in the offseason. Through transfers and players stepping into bigger roles, the team came together early in the offseason to begin building chemistry.
“We had everyone on the team show up in June,” junior guard Blake Spellman said. “That kind of showed to us and the coaches that we’re ready for this year and we’re ready to accomplish what we didn’t last year.”
Spellman joins senior forward Jakob Lowrance as the only regular starter from last season. He started in all but one game and scored in double figures in 11 games.
Junior Matt Wilkinson was a regular in the Mules rotation last season, averaging 20 minutes and starting sporadically.
The Mules have added a variety of players through transfers and have taken on the task of integrating them into their offensive and defensive systems. Wilkinson said it has been fun to get to know new teammates and learn to play with them.
“It’s awesome. I mean, I love it,” he said. “We get to meet new people from all walks of life like guys from D.C. and North Dakota. I’m from Overland Park, Kansas, and we’re all buying into the same thing. Seeing guys from all walks of life come together and reach a common goal is probably one of my favorite things about basketball.”
Spellman added the coaching staff brought players in who aren’t focused on their point totals.
“I think the guys we have are very unselfish,” he said. “Coach did a good job of getting unselfish guys who don’t care more about scoring and have already bought into the system. They look at defense, hustling and just the team aspect more than putting the ball in the bucket. I think the group that we have is very special.”
The Mules added a handful of transfers in the offseason in graduate transfer guard Jafar Kinsey and junior guards Solomon Finley and James Byrd.
Spellman said his biggest takeaway from transferring from a Division I team to play with the Mules was to not try to do too much.
“You can’t look at it like ‘I’m going to do this or that’ because it’s really not that different going to Division II in this conference because you have great teams and great players night in and night out,” he said.
There were no public exhibition games for the Mules, but they competed in three closed-door scrimmages. Head coach Doug Karleskint said the Mules looked good in those scrimmages and he is still planning to experiment with lineups going into the regular season as guys get continue to get comfortable playing together.
Wilkinson said the scrimmages were a good indication of the team’s growth from last season.
“It went really well. The D2 team we played, Arkansas Tech beat us by 25 last preseason and we beat them in our scrimmage this season,” he said. “It shows the progress we’ve made.”
The Mules open the season with two games at home as the hosts of the Central Region Tip-off Classic. First up is Harding, tip is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday at the Multipurpose Center. Next the Mules will match up against Wayne State Saturday with tip scheduled for 8 p.m. Saturday.