By Zack Peñalva, Sports Editor
As the Eagles look forward to Sunday’s game against the University of Kentucky, it’s finally time for months of buildup to come to their conclusion. Fifteen miles separate the two schools, as well as a much bigger gulf in terms of resources, revenue and history. When Asbury played their first ever intercollegiate game in 1969 against Trevecca Nazarene University, the Cats had already appeared in 17 NCAA National Tournaments and won the championship four times.
“We understand what we’re going up against,” said head coach Will Shouse in a previous interview. “It’s definitely a David and Goliath match, but this is a chance for us to represent Asbury University, and that feels awesome.” That perspective will be important for Shouse and his team as they go into a game against a team that has a pedigree of producing top talent.
After an exit in the second round of the tournament last year, three UK players were drafted into the NBA, Jamal Murray to the Denver Nuggets and Skal Labissiere and Tyler Ulis to the Phoenix Suns (Labissiere was later traded to the Sacramento Kings). The Cats have at least two players drafted into the NBA every year, going back to 2009. In 2015, four players were taken in the first round.
It’s definitely a David and Goliath match, but this is a chance for us to represent Asbury University, and that feels awesome.
This year, UK is on the hunt for the National Championship yet again. Preseason polls rated them fourth in the nation, despite only having three upperclassmen on the roster. The Cats are a young team, with freshmen guards De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk expected to play a huge role in coach Calipari’s game plan. Sophomore Isaiah Briscoe is a veteran by the team’s standards and will likely be one of the first names in Calipari’s starting five.
“I’m excited to play with Isaiah,” Fox said in an interview with The Lexington Herald-Leader. “It’ll be fun. And it’ll make it easier for me.”
For Asbury, the real goal will be to perform in a way that helps Shouse determine who’s ready for the Eagles for their regular season opener against Marian University on Nov. 18. With the departure of players like Kyle Lamb and Jordan Gilbert, two players that averaged over 25 minutes a game last season, it will be up to others in the squad to step up into their place.
A strong foundation for the team is still here, with senior Tyler Smith (10ppg, 7rpg, 2apg) and sophomore Trenton Thompson (10ppg, .447 3pt%) returning for another year. With the adoption to a new offensive system that emphasizes high-tempo and scoring (covered in the Oct. 7 Collegian), the whole team will be called on to play a part.
While a victory against the Cats is well accepted as a pipe dream, Shouse still believes that there is a lot to be taken from playing against such high-level opposition. “If we play hard, follow the scouting report and give it everything we can, that’s a kind of success.”