Freshman class provides foundation for Seton Hill men’s basketball
With his second season at Seton Hill already under way, men’s basketball coach Kendrick Saunders is at ease while the usual outside noise keeps abuzz.
The Griffins (1-1), looking to fill the vacancies left by three seniors and a transfer, evened their early-season record with an 83-76 nonconference victory at Alderson Broaddus.
Those departures from last season’s 9-19 team included leading scorer Trevor Blondin (20.0 ppg) and Malik McKinney (11.2), a 6-foot-3 sophomore, who transferred to Division II West Liberty. Malenko Predic (9.0 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and Brandon Alston, both 6-6, round out the list of outgoing seniors.
With nine freshmen, helping to make up one of the youngest teams in the Division II Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference, Saunders and Seton Hill will attempt to improve on a 7-14 record in the PSAC Western Division, where the Griffins weren’t expected to be a contender after fellow coaches picked them to finish seventh among eight PSAC-West teams.
None of it seems to have affected Saunders, a 20-something-year veteran assistant at five colleges — among them Princeton, Army and Navy — prior to taking over at Seton Hill.
“It’s all about the quality of the kid, the integrity, the academics,” Saunders said. “That’s our focus. You have to recruit kids to fit your program. Everywhere I’ve been, we’ve looked at good academic kids. Seton Hill is so well-respected in that area, it takes time to build this type of program.”
Saunders’ other previous stops as an assistant were at Frostburg State and Hunter (N.Y.).
“Everybody starts at some point, and you always reflect back to your mentors when that time comes,” Saunders aid. “I do think when you work 20-plus years in the business, head coaches and mentors are important. It’s been a long, patient stretch. God found the right place for me, which is fantastic.”
He will continue the task of building consistency at Seton Hill with the help of senior guard Nathan Davis, the team’s top returning scorer (19.2 ppg.), who attempted 233 3-point shots last season.
In the season-opening loss to Wheeling Jesuit, the 6-4 Davis struggled from behind the arc, going 0 for 7, but still managed to score 12 points, as did freshman Jimmy Moon, a 6-11 center from Serra Catholic, in his college debut.
“So happy to have Nathan Davis,” Saunders said. “He’s the type of man you just respect on and off the basketball court. He’s a great leader and has influenced our program the last two years so much. I can talk basketball because he’s got those skills. But as the person, Nathan is fantastic.”
Moon, the second-leading scorer in the WPIAL last season, averaging 28.8 points to go with 14.4 rebounds at Serra Catholic, is among three area players to join the Griffins this season, the others being 6-3 guard Jaden Nelson (Moon) and 6-9 Marrek Paola (Ligonier Valley).
“Absolutely, the No. 1 goal is to recruit kids in (and around) the WPIAL,” Saunders said.
The trio helps to make up a large freshman class of nine players, which Saunders hopes will be a foundation for future success.
“It’s all about new experiences when you turn the page on another season,” Saunders said. “That’s how to look at it. We get an opportunity to influence new student-athletes. Good things will happen if you keep working.”
Seton Hill will open its PSAC schedule next weekend at home with a pair of divisional crossover games against Mansfield on Nov. 23 and Bloomsburg on Nov. 24.
Dave Mackall is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.