The Chapman men’s basketball team, led by an experienced group of seniors, broke a school record last year by starting off the 2014-15 season 16-0. The team ended up finishing 22-5, 12-4 in conference play, winning its first ever Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference regular season championship.
Unfortunately though, the team lost six seniors – the top six leading scorers – after graduation. A whole new crop of Panthers will be taking the court in the 2015-16 season, something that head coach Mike Bokosky, who has been at Chapman for 24 years, believes will be a learning experience.
“We don’t have the fire power that we had the last couple of years, where we were one of the top teams in the country in all the offensive categories, so I think we’ll be more balanced and just trying to figure out who our top guys are as the season goes on,” he said.
With team leaders, like Colin Zavrsnick and Taylor Hamasaki – Chapman seventh and ninth all-time leading scorers, respectively – gone, Bokosky is looking elsewhere for leadership.
“Right now we have a transfer grad student Luke Hamlin, who has a couple years of eligibility left, and he’s the man,” he said. “He’s very mature on the court. He has a calming effect (and) has a nice leadership quality about him. But who our leader will be is still to be determined.”
The 6-foot-2 Hamlin played guard for two years at Seattle Pacific University, an NCAA Division II school.
This year’s team is sophomore heavy, as there are eight sophomores currently on the roster led by 6-foot-8 forward James Taylor, who played the most minutes among them last season. But there are also some upperclassmen that will be making an impact.
Senior forward Mike Atwater averaged 4.5 points and 3.1 rebounds in 15.5 minutes per game last season.
Another key bench contributor from last season and a possible starter this season is senior forward Davis Dragovich who averaged 4 points in 11.6 minutes per game his junior season. Dragovich believes that this team could do some damage despite everything it lost.
“The goal is always to make it to the conference tournament and eventually the national tournament,” Dragovich said. “We lost some really talented guys from last year, but as a whole I think this team is just as talented as any Chapman team I’ve been a part of and we’ll be ready to make that kind of run.”
Bokosky also pegged junior forward James Griffin as someone to watch for, although he only played three minutes per game last season.
“He’s been around in the program a little while, so in practice he just looks like a guy that gets it,” Bokosky said.
While Bokosky did not bring in as big of a freshman class as last season, he said that 6-foot-2 freshman guard Cam Haslam has looked the best out of the freshmen so far in practice.
“He’s really mature both physically and mentally,” Bokosky said. “Freshmen can play at any level if they’re mentally and physically mature. He’s a really good talent for us and he’ll play just as much as anyone else in our program.”
Overall, Bokosky believes the team’s success this season will depend on the players’ ability to learn in practice and gain experience.
“Our season will depend on our ability to learn and improve,” Bokosky said. “Will we improve on things in practice so we can move on to other areas we need to work on? I don’t know yet. I think most teams that are average or below average teams are still working on things that they should have mastered in October and November in January. So we’ll see.”
The Panthers’ first official game isn’t until Tuesday, Nov. 17 when they take on La Sierra University, but they have a scrimmage set up for Tuesday, Nov. 10 against a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics school, Vanguard University, in Irvine to kick off their season.