ASHEVILLE, N.C. (WJHL) – The SoCon basketball tournaments will be played just over the mountain in North Carolina for a 25th time come next spring. On Wednesday, representatives from each men’s and women’s basketball team in the league gathered in Asheville for Media Day.
The ETSU men are looking to reverse their fortunes in 2023-24, as the program has finished below .500 in each of the last two seasons.
First-year head coach Brooks Savage and crew have been picked to finish seventh in the SoCon Preseason Coaches Poll and sixth in the Media Poll.
“Does the opinion of those people matter – not really,” Savage said. “But, it is what they think of us. We won’t forget that and we’ll use it as motivation.”
The Blue and Gold are eager to get back to their winning ways this year, but coaches and players are mindful that this fall is just the beginning of a new chapter of the program. Savage believes it’s a delicate balance, but it can be solved by one thing.
“You know, whenever you’re in year one of anything, you like to try and skip steps, right,” he said, “You try to fast track it and and be good as good as you can be. Fast.”
“Sometimes that’s hard to do, but there’s a lot of people in the city that are excited about basketball and they’re ready that they’re going to be out there on Monday night,” he continued. “We talked about this yesterday as a team. People are going to come watch us. We’ve got to give them a reason to come back.”
“I feel like a lot of it is in the chemistry,” redshirt-junior forward Jaden Seymour said. “I feel like we’ve got that. We’re going to have that the more games we play together – the better it’s going to be.”
“Then, just really having our mindset in the right spot – just trying to win,” he added. “Between those two, as long as we’ve got those two things, we can skip a couple steps, like coach said.”
For ETSU women’s basketball, an extra target has been painted on the back of the program.
Not only does Brenda Mock Brown return all but one starter from a 25-win team last season, but the Bucs are now the official preseason team to beat in the SoCon. The Blue and Gold were selected first in the SoCon Preseason Coaches Poll and second in the Media Poll, behind only Chattanooga.
Mock Brown recalled her 2015-16 UNC-Asheville team that was picked preseason to win its conference. They finished seventh in the regular season, but went on to win a the conference championship.
She feels her group in Johnson City, however, is built to handle the pressure that comes with this territory.
“That’s where you want to be every year – that there is an expectation to win the championship, regardless of whether we’re picked one by the coaches or, you know, we’re picked seventh,” she said. “That shouldn’t matter.
“But I think as in it, it is an indication of, you know, we have a lot of returners, we’re experienced. We had success last year. It’s where you want to be as a player,” she continued. “At the same time, you’re internally motivated. I mean, being picked, number one isn’t going to win us a game.”
“Us being number one – that’s a lot,” senior center Jakhyia Davis admitted. “But, the work will speak for itself. We don’t get too over our heads about things like that. I mean, it’s exciting, but at the end of the day we still have a job to do.”
ETSU junior guards Nevaeh Brown and Kendall Folley were also both selected to the Preseason All-SoCon squad.
Brown averaged 10.7 points per game last season, while swiping 39 steals. Folley was a Second Team All-SoCon and All-SoCon defensive selection last season, while averaging 11.1 points per game.