BY BRIANNA ELLIS, STAFF WRITER
The countdown to Bellarmine’s men’s basketball redemption has begun.
After a heartbreaking 79-76 defeat at the hands of the national champion, Florida Southern, in the 2015 Final Four, the Knights want to turn 2015’s disappointment into a glorious 2016.
Although the Knights lost four seniors from last year’s squad, Bellarmine returns several key players, which could make them a formidable force in the Great Lakes Valley Conference.
Senior forward and team captain George Suggs, who led the team in blocks with 57 and averaged nearly nine points a game, is ready to win a national championship, calling the team’s main focus “getting back to where we were last year.”
Suggs said: “The team, the fans, and the coaches have a little bit of a bitter taste in our mouth about the way last year ended. That has been fuel for us coming into this year. We all had a taste of it [success], and we want to go back.”
Although Coach Scotty Davenport was disappointed with the loss to Florida Southern as well, he has put it behind him, and he said he hopes his players hav,e too.
“I will never mention the heartbreaking loss of last season, if the players never forget the feeling,” Davenport said.
In his short time with his new group of Knights, Davenport said he has been extremely impressed with the hardworking attitude of his players.
“You can do all your research, but as a coach, I’m so optimistic because of the commitment on behalf of the players. We have a very special group of young men,” Davenport said.
The Knights ended last season with the top seed in the Eastern Division of the Great Lakes Valley Conference after a 31-4 season.
The Knights return 11 players from last year’s squad, including team captains Suggs, Michael Parrish and Rusty Troutman. Josh Derksen, who was third on the team in scoring in 2014-15 with 11.6 per game, is back for his junior campaign.
Daniel Ramser, Adam Eberhard, Skyler Hunter and Willie Schurfranz make up the Knights’ freshmen class.
Al Davis, a junior transfer point guard from North Iowa Area Community College, said he believes the Knights are ready to win a national championship and is most looking forward to the atmosphere of Knights Hall.
“I’ve heard the atmosphere in Knights Hall is electric night in and night out because of our amazing fans, and I’m anxious to experience it,” Davis said.
Davenport echoed Davis’ sentiments about Knights Nation.
“We appreciate the fans. We appreciate them very much. We want to see them out for each game because their excitement fuels us,” Davenport said.
Davenport did not want to name specific players he expects to have a good year, but look for Suggs to pick up right where he left off in 2014-15 as a rim protector. The forward from St. Louis totaled 57 blocks last season.
The Knights will need their Australian forward, Derksen, to step up after the loss of 2015 GLVC Player of the Year, Jake Thelen.
Rusty Troutman, also a junior, will be counted on to provide scoring, after averaging 11.3 points per game in 2014-15.
At point guard, the Knights need Davis to step into the shoes of former point guard Chris Whitehead, who averaged 15 points per game last season, and lead the team.
After being ranked No. 5 in the NCAA Division II Bulletin preseason top 25 poll, the expectations of success are high for the men’s basketball team this season.
Davenport asks students to pack the arena for each and every game, starting Nov. 14 for the opener against Northwood, which will be a part of the GLVC/GLIAC Challenge. The Timberwolves finished 15-14 in 2015 and ended fifth in Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
A few GLVC matchups to watch include Bellarmine’s games against No. 12 University of Indianapolis, which the Knights will face for the third homecoming game in a row on Jan. 30 and No. 19 Drury, on Feb. 6 in Springfield, Missouri. Drury defeated the Knights in the GLVC Championship in 2015.
Bellarmine will host No. 7 Lincoln Memorial University on New Year’s Day in a game that will almost certainly be a great one. Midwestern State will visit Knights Hall on Nov. 27. The D-II Bulletin tabbed the Mustangs as a team to watch in 2015.
While the Knights will begin their regular season against Northwood, Bellarmine will visit three Division I schools for exhibition games. They will play against the crosstown Louisville Cardinals on Nov. 1, then travel up the road to face the Cincinnati Bearcats for the fourth year in a row on Nov. 7. The Knights will conclude their preseason against the Indiana Hoosiers on Nov. 9 in Bloomington, Indiana.