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District Colleges

Chatham men's basketball team building from scratch

| Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015, 9:34 p.m.
Chatham's Alex Schoppen (Central Catholic) scored 12 points and had seven rebounds in the Cougars' victory over W & J on Saturday. It was the first win in program history.
Chatham Athletics
Chatham's Alex Schoppen (Central Catholic) scored 12 points and had seven rebounds in the Cougars' victory over W & J on Saturday. It was the first win in program history.
Logan Hunter, a Hempfield graduate, is the lone sophomore on Chatham's roster, making him the Cougars' oldest player.
Chatham Athletics
Logan Hunter, a Hempfield graduate, is the lone sophomore on Chatham's roster, making him the Cougars' oldest player.

Teams generally measure success in wins and losses. But for the fledgling men's basketball team at Chatham, wins and losses don't matter as much as progress.

Of course, a victory is nice.

After six losses, the Cougars earned the first win in program history — as well as their first in the Presidents' Athletic Conference — 71-64 over W&J on Saturday. Led by 13 points from Logan Hunter (Hempfield) and 12 points and seven rebounds from Alex Schoppen (Central Catholic), the team etched itself into university lore.

“We kept it kind of calm on the court,” said coach Andrew Garcia (Central Catholic), “but once we got to the locker room it was a pretty good scene.”

Garcia, who played three years at Tulane, knew he had a Herculean task in building the program from scratch. All but one player are freshmen, and even that lone sophomore, Hunter, had no college basketball experience.

The beginning had its rough patches. Garcia sometimes would make the team repeat entire segments of practice and on occasion would, to use his words, “flip out.”

And though Schoppen said the players bonded almost immediately, there was tension.

“I think every time out we become more constructively critical of each other,” he said. “The first couple weeks of practice, we were kind of getting on each other in more of a negative way. But now we're being more supportive of each other.”

That is one of the intangibles Garcia is seeking. Lacking collegiate experience and still trying to creating synergy on the court, the team needs to find other ways to get an edge.

One of Garcia's mantras is for the players to maintain their level of effort through practices and games. Established teams might have an advantage in talent or size, but Garcia doesn't want the Cougars to be outworked.

The emergence of leaders will help that cause. Garcia said he still is looking for that player who will take charge and tell the offense to rein itself in when it gets off script or tell the defense to pick up its intensity.

But he is confident that will come as the team continues to find itself. He is encouraged by the way the players have embraced the notion that success will develop over the next year or two.

“We've had tough times, and we know we're going to have tough times this year,” Hunter said. “But I think we're doing all right getting through the tough times and getting over the adversity.”

“The thing that I've been impressed with is how mature these guys have been and how they come back for more every day and are willing to learn,” Garcia said. “It's more about how can we improve, how can we grow, how can we build this culture.”

That remains a work in progress as the players continue to get familiar with each other and learn about the opposition in the PAC.

There likely will be more lumps along the way. Losses like the 94-59 setback Dec. 2 against Westminster might outnumber the victories. Already, however, the players are starting to see the results of their work.

“The first couple games we might have had the jitters — first collegiate game for all of us. I think we're calming down a little bit,” Hunter said. “There are things that still aren't quite automatic, obviously, because we're a young team. But we're getting a lot better. You can see the improvements through each game, I think.”

Chuck Curti is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at ccurti@tribweb.com or via Twitter @CCurti_Trib.

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