The Kansas City men’s basketball team has undergone plenty of change in the past year. A new coaching staff, six returners and 10 newcomers comes with challenges, but the Roos are taking it head on.
“We’ve got six players on our roster who have never played Division I basketball,” Head Coach Billy Donlon said. “We need great leadership, great effort and great basketball IQ and experience they bring to the table.”
The leadership and basketball IQ Donlon is referring to will come from the four seniors on this year’s roster: returning forward Jordan Giles and guard Rob Whitfield, as well as transfers Jahshire Hardnett from BYU and Javan White from Clemson.
The Roos are also returning two junior starters, guards Brandon McKissic and Marvin Nesbitt Jr. These two players, combined with Giles, started at least 60% of last year’s games. The players all agreed that the team’s veteran leadership keeps them hopeful for this season.
“Being a senior, I am working on being more of a leader, but between myself and the seniors I have with me, we all have great veteran leadership,” Giles said. “If everyone locks in and becomes one team, we will be good.”
Giles is the only Roo who’s been in the program all four years, averaging 8.4 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game. Giles is a forward and a guard who can match up with a bigger and smaller guys.
“He can really be a matchup nightmare,” Donlon said. “If you can get him on the perimeter, he can make plays,” Donlon said. “Jordan is really strong; he can get his shoulder into your chest and really move you.”
After playing for the same coaches and system for the past three years, this year will be an adjustment for Giles. However, Giles did not want to leave the Kansas City community and the vision Donlon set for him.
“It is definitely a culture change,” Giles said “It’s hard work, and I’m down with all the hard work if it ends up for a greater outcome.”
Whitfield will be entering into his second season as a Roo. Last season he ranked first in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) in three-point percentage and 28th in the NCAA while averaging 11 points per game.
Whitfield is tied for third in school history for career three-point percentage, and his confidence is key if he hopes to break the school record.
“I need to make sure I keep my confidence up, because teams are going to begin to lock in,” Whitfield said. “I had quite a few games where I was out, and I feel like that was on me being confident. I am going to keep that confidence in me.”
Although they are new to Kansas City, Hardnett and White both bring experience.
Hardnett is a left-handed point guard from BYU who averaged 7.4 points, 1.9 assists and 2.5 rebounds per game.
“Two years ago he had his best year at BYU, averaging in double figures in a very difficult league,” said Donlon. “He has the ability to really make plays.”
Hardnett’s experience as a guard and his basketball IQ will be major factors for the Roos.
“I’ve been a part of a couple programs who have won, and I just want to win when I leave out,” Hardnett said. “When you win it brings so much more success to the community, the basketball team, to the players.”
White, a transfer from Clemson who played two seasons at Oral Roberts, is known as a tenacious rebounder, with a high skill level. At Oral Roberts, White averaged 7.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and shot 50.6% from the field.
“I want to help carry momentum into next year for the younger guys in the locker room,” White said. “To spring forward Kansas City basketball and show we are a team to be reckoned with every year.”
“We need these four guys to play well in order to win and that’s the reality of our team,” Donlon said.
Donlon is depending on these players to lead and guide the team this season. For some players, it adds pressure; for others, it is just doing what they know they have to do this season.
“It’s not really pressure we know what we have to do, and it’s our last year last chance to do what we need to do to get where we need to go,” Whitfield said. “Honestly, that should just make us go harder and want to add more fire to our fuel.”
“Every day we work on, ‘What are you trying to do to impact winning?’” Donlon said. “Rob shot 40% from the three last year; that’s a phenomenal percentage, but what can we do to impact winning?”
With talented players like Whitfield, Giles, White and Hardnett, the key lies in how the team can connect all of its pieces to accomplish a winning season.
The men’s team is only home for seven days for the first month of the season and will play three straight road games against Oklahoma State, Drake and Milwaukee. Donlon said this heavy traveling in the first five weeks will be one of the team’s biggest challenges.
“I have never been a part of a program where we are only home for seven days,” Donlon said. “They’re still 18 to 22 year olds, not 26.”
With a team hungry for change, there’s one thing on everyone’s mind: winning.
“We just need to win as our biggest goal and leave it all out there,” Whitfield said. “Everything will fall into place.”
The Roos kickoff the season against Avila University at Swinney Center on Nov. 5 at 8 p.m. and play again at home on Nov. 18 at 7 p.m.