If the St. Ambrose men’s basketball team is going to bounce back from its first losing season in five years, the Fighting Bees know where that fight has to start.
“Defense, that’s our number one priority,’’ junior guard Nick Frazier said.
Guard Darren Galloway said success on the defensive end of the floor has to make a difference if coach Ray Shovlain’s 31st St. Ambrose team is going to turn around last season’s 10-20 record.
“We’re working hard to develop an identity that starts with defense,’’ Galloway said. “We have a lot of players who can do a lot of good things on offense, but if we don’t defend, it won’t mean a thing. We learned that last season.’’
Shovlain likes what he sees from a deep, athletic roster.
He believes he has more than a dozen players who will be able to help St. Ambrose this season and he suspects it will take time early in the season to sort that depth out.
“The guys we have coming back have all worked to improve their games after we had an off-year last year. They came back ready to go and compete and we’re going to get some significant contributions from a number of new guys, too,’’ Shovlain said.
Frazier and Galloway, a senior who played at Davenport North, averaged 16.8 and 12.6 points to lead St. Ambrose a year ago, while Sam Ainsworth returns at a forward spot after averaging 8.8 points and 6.2 rebounds as a freshman.
“We expect to get back to playing St. Ambrose basketball this year,’’ Frazier said. “Coach Ray’s teams, they expect to win 20, 30 games a year no matter how experienced or how new the guys are on the roster and we expect to do the same.’’
Galloway said the team’s athleticism will allow St. Ambrose to continue to push the tempo and greater strength should help the Fighting Bees compete inside.
“We have a complete team,’’ Galloway said. “That’s going to help us put everything together.’’
TY Deal, a junior from Peoria Richwoods who scored 15 points and had six rebounds in the only game he played for St. Ambrose a year ago before suffering an injury, will start at the point for the Bees.
He likely will find himself on the floor at times with his cousin, 6-foot-3 junior college transfer Darian White, a guard who prepped at Peoria High.
White is among a group of junior-college transfers that includes 6-7 Rex Farmer, 6-5 Terrell Dixon, 6-8 Damian Trost and a freshman, 6-6 Justin Halloran, who will see time for the Bees this season.
The size provided by the newcomers will challenge returning frontline players Michael Knoll and Adam Koncel for minutes as St. Ambrose works toward a Friday opener at Hannibal-LaGrange.
“It’s a competitive group and they are pushing each other,'' Shovlain said. "Last year, we got knocked around physically and I don’t see that happening.
"We’re going to be able to play up tempo, apply pressure full court and do the things that I feel creates an exciting brand of basketball. On our best teams, we’ve had a number of guys contribute and I think we’ll be able to do that this year.’’