Men’s basketball already feels impact of strong ’16 class

Going into their 2012 season, the men’s basketball team had won five of their last 100 games. This year’s team (3-4) is off to its best start since 2007-08. Helping to lead the charge is an unlikely source, 18-year-old California native Dylan Kilgour ’16. After searching for a school with a combination of top-notch academics and a DIII basketball team, Kilgour had a decision to make: Macalester or Occidental.

If he had chosen Occidental, the Scots’ Thanksgiving break trip could have had a much different feel. Instead of relying on the even-keeled, smooth-shooting Kilgour, they would have had to gameplan against him.

Fortunately for the Scots, Kilgour chose Mac.

“[Coach Tim Whittle] saw me play at a basketball camp in San Diego and I talked to him and came and visited here,” Kilgour said. “I thought I’d have new and better opportunities to come out here and start something new.”

Kilgour, the Scots’ starting point guard, leads the team in assists, minutes per game, and free throw percentage. He’s also second in 3-point field goals made and is the third leading scorer.

“[Kilgour] is doing good things for us,” said Pierce Peters ’13, the team’s leading scorer. “My high school team was pretty similar to Macalester’s team,” Kilgour said. “I think that kind of helped in that it wasn’t a huge leap.”

Two other newcomers, Kyle Bernhard ’16 and Griffin Glatt ’16, have also played significant minutes. Bernhard started the first five games and is third on the team in 3-point field goals made. Glatt has started all seven contests and ranks third in rebounds per game, fourth in points per game, and fourth in minutes per game.

“I think I was given a big role at first,” Bernhard said. “It’s great because our team’s supportive no matter who’s starting, who’s playing. You know, I got to start the first five games and now I might come off the bench a little bit.”

While their recent 48-point loss to 2011 NCAA Division III champion St. Thomas, last-minute five point loss to St. Olaf, and 32-point loss to St. John’s were admittedly setbacks, the Scots have already matched the combined win total of their previous two seasons.

“The season so far has been fantastic,” Trey Muraoka ’16 said. “I feel like there’s a real positive energy this year. I mean the seniors have talked about it … there’s just a different vibe. We feel like we can win games.”

Peters said that this year’s new group is one of the best he’s seen.

“We have more pieces that we were missing in the past,” he said.

Head Coach Tim Whittle wrote via email that he was very excited after assembling the group.

“We have been very consious of finding players who fit our system, but first and foremost fit Macalester and the character of our team,” he wrote. “This group exemplifies our core values as a program.”

The large first-year group not only faced challenges on the basketball court, but in their schoolwork and transitions to college life. Kilgour said he felt nervous the week before college, unsure that he’d fit in with Mac’s reputation for civic engagement and activism. After a few weeks though, his fears were quelled.

“I was pleasantly surprised,” he said. “I found a good group of friends, and everyone here is so nice.”

Still, some days are better than others.

“There was one time when we had a morning practice and I set my alarm for p.m. instead of a.m.,” Kilgour said. “I had to run across campus at like 6:50 in the morning trying to get to practice by like 7:00. It was bad. The rest of the day I just didn’t feel well about it.”

Bernhard said that his most difficult transition at Mac was the rigor of coursework.

“Academics have been extremely difficult,” Bernhard said. “It’s definitely something that you get you used to doing though … and it gets a lot easier.”

Muraoka said Mac also recruited him, although primarily the football team.

“Macalester was really one of the only places where I heard a lot from,” he said. “I wanted to feel like I was wanted. [Mac] didn’t feel fake. It felt genuine.”

Before his arrival to campus, Muraoka said he was excited.

“I just looked at it as a new challenge, a new adventure, a chance to get away and be someplace different than Hawaii,” he said. “This is about as different as you can get.”

Muraoka said that the first few weeks were particularly difficult adjusting to new surroundings.

“There would be a couple nights where I would be like, ‘What am I doing here?’” he said. “A lot of my friends are still back at home, and I was really one of the first ones up here, so … it was hard for me.”

Several months in, Muraoka said he’s satisfied with his college choice.

“I love it so far,” he said. “Everyone’s real nice over here. It’s probably the best place I could have ended up really.”

With the highs and lows of college, the first-years have a wide range of support from their upperclassmen teammates and their coaches.

“The older guys are there, helping us adjust,” Bernhard said.

“My staff and I spend a lot of time with the freshmen as they transition into college from an academic, basketball and social standpoint,” Whittle wrote. “We try to ease that transition…by having a relationship with the players so they feel comfortable coming to me for help when they need it.”

After the Scots 1-24 season last year, excitement started to build in the Leonard Center as they entered halftime of their first game this year up by 11 over Wisconsin Lutheran. In the second half, Mac clung to their lead. As the buzzer sounded, the scoreboard showing Mac 62, Wisconsin Lutheran 51, the bench cleared as the team celebrated with jubilant screams and hugs. Fans on the sidelines high-fived each other.

“It’s been a long time since this happened at Macalester,” fan Adrian Chang ’16 said.

“That was probably the best feeling ever,” Kilgour said. “You knew that last year … we didn’t do so well, and so it was just nice to start off on a positive note.”

“We’re rebuilding a basketball program that’s kind of used to losing,” Bernhard said. “It’s nice that we’re succeeding with that so far, and we can build even more on that.”

And helping lead the charge are the youngsters.

“I think it’s been really helpful having this group of energetic freshman,” Peters said. “A lot of the older players were kind of tired out and everything, and [the freshman] really sparked things. I think we’re in a better place than we were in the past few years.”