Photo: Galen Smith (15) rises up to block a shot in the final home game against Lee University. Smith, a junior, averaged just over 13 points per game in his first year with MC. Choctaw Athletics
It’s always hard to come to terms with things in life that are entirely out of one’s control, and it’s exactly the same in the sporting world. The main aspect completely out of anyone’s control that can affect a season is injuries. For the men’s basketball team at MC, it’s what plagued them for almost the entire season.
Four key players who got great minutes, and even were routine starters, were injured for a significant amount of time during the always-crucial conference part of the schedule. When GSC-leading scorer last year Brandon Boston became unavailable for the rest of the season after only a few conference games, it was the start of an uphill climb.
Tradavis Thompson, who suffered a season-ending injury midway through the year, led the team in scoring with 14.5 points per game in only 14 games played. Seniors Lamont Berzat and Zach Jones also didn’t have a full season. Jones led the team in blocks, all while averaging 9.5 points a contest along with 5.4 rebounds in only 14 games played. Berzat led the team and conference in assists per game at just under five. The University of New Orleans transfer also averaged 8 points per game and was a leader on and off the court in his 16 games played.
Although the Choctaws went 7-19 on the season with a 5-15 Gulf South Conference record, there were some clear bright spots from those who had to step up and fill in for the injured players.
One of those standout Choctaws was Galen Smith, a transfer from Louisiana College (now Louisiana Christian University). The junior out of Bay Saint Louis played in all but one game this season where he led the team in rebounds at 6.5 and also averaged just over 13 points a game.
“Just trust in Coach [Bolden],” said Smith on how they were able to overcome the onslaught of injuries. “We just have to trust in what he’s asking us to do and the plays that he has for us.”
For first year head coach Randy Bolden, losing five quality players across the course of the season was the last thing he could have expected and wanted. However, he’s used this year to lay a foundation and build a new culture for the future of MC basketball filled with gritty play, stout defense, and a faster pace than years past.
“He’s trying to build a championship culture here,” Smith said of Bolden. “He knows that the past few seasons haven’t been all that great and I know that he wants to try and change that for us. I feel like we put a good foundation down this season and we can absolutely expect a GSC championship next year.”
Another key player that stepped up in quality of play and minutes was Berzat, a Division I transfer from the Southland Conference. Along with his 8.3 points per game, he also led the entire conference in assists with 4.8 a contest in only 16 games played this season. In his absence from the floor, he acted as an extra assistant coach on the bench and was the first one off his seat to encourage his teammates when a timeout was called.
Although the record shows more losses than wins on the ledger, the Choctaws used their injury-ridden year wisely to perfectly set them up for the coming fall, when a healthy and much more improved team will present themselves in November. The blue and gold also returns four of their top six scorers for next season, along with freshmen and Smith down low to collect rebounds and provide a post presence.
For an outsider taking a first glance at the Choctaws schedule and results from the rollercoaster season of last year, one would expect the blue and gold to be at the bottom of the standings in the Gulf South Conference for next season. However, the two factors that prove MC could have a breakout year when fall comes around and the two phrases that are music to the ears of the entire organization are “a healthy team” and “returning scorers and starters.” It’s the perfect scenario heading into the offseason, and for the Choctaws, it’s the start of what’s set out to be a magical season in November.