Leathernecks impress in the classroom, disappoint on the court

Christopher Bean, Assistant Sports Editor

MACOMB IL  —  Wester Illinois’s men’ basketbal tea finishe 10-21 overall and 4-12 in the Summit League finishin eight ou of nint overall in the conference this year. They have finished seventh or worst in 13 of the last 14 seasons, with the exception of their outstanding 2012-13 season, going 22-9 and falling one win short of the NCAA Tournament.

Hea Coac Bill Wrigh cam to Western in 2008 as an assistant coach. After the 2010 season, he became the associate head coach until 2013, when he left for one year to become an assistant coach at Ball State. About a year later, Wright became the 20th head coach in Wester Illinoi histor on Apri 15, 2014. In his tenure as the Leatherneck hea coach he   is 48-9 overal and 19-59 in the Summi League. A huge factor for the bad record is they are 9-59 on the road and 1-4 on neutral courts. In his first  year they didn’t win on the road but in his secon season they started the year upsetting the defending national runner-ups Wisconsin 69-67 in Madison However they have played well at home going 38-31. The biggest issue in his tenure is the lack of overall success, even though the talent has improved on a year to year basis. Let’s take a look at how this years team was a perfect example of that.

O thi year roster ever player was recruited by Wright and his staff. Starting with “The Machine from Spring Green Brandon Gilbeck. His seven-foot frame is hard to ignore, and so are his stats. He led the NCAA in blocked shots thi yea an is a two-tim Summit League defensive Player of the Year. He is the individual season record holder for Western with 106 blocks. This was the first high caliber player that Wright recruited. “You have to have guys come in and build the culture and help move the program forward and Gilbeck has been a big part of that. Wright said. But it’s been his recruiting in the past few years that has been most impressive.

Nex come Kob Webster Ou of Indiana, Webster is a player that is an explosiv scorin machine He   is on track to be i the top-fiv for career point at Wester and third for total career assists. He was named captain this year and will be a huge leader for the team moving forward. He was also named MVP along with Gilbeck. Wright said Webster, “best represent our program philosophy of All In. Be the best person you can be, be the  best student you can be and be the best basketball player you can be.”

This    years    biggest    roster    talent improvement came freshman Young and Ben Pyle, who both implemented themselve int th startin line-up Zion Young was an ESPN three-star recruit from Simeon High School in Chicago. He improved consistentl from game- to-game and shot a prolific 45 percent from deep.

Pyle was determined to determine to not be out-done. Mr. Basketball of Kansas came to Western to be “Mr. Basketball” of Macomb. He averaged 8.5 points per game and was a  key factor in the win against South Dakota State University in The Summit League Tournament. Along with these four great athletes, Wright still brought in decent supporting captains C.J. Duff and Jeremiah Usiosefe. He also brought in guard Isaac Johnson, who started 21 games this year and 11 his freshman year.

The talent is clearly here, and Wright has done a superb job of collecting it. However, this no improvemen in the Summit League standings or on a year to year basis. Wright said issues that play a part.

“There are so many variables that can impact   winning That often go unnotice unles you’r in th trenches,” Wright said. “We try to do our best with in our program within our staff, the way we do things to minimize, reduce an eliminat distractions Especially the ones  that we can control. And then we have to find a way  to stay focused, stay energized and stay on task. And sometime tha can be challenging.  I think things happen during the course of the season that’s behind your control, whether a player has a death in the family, or a player has an illness or an injury. And we don’t harp on those things, but those things are very, very real.”

Distractions can lead to the inconsistency the Leatherneck have had, but Wright said.

“The thing we have to work on moving forward is just being consistent.”

The Leatherneck did show   a spark at the en of the seaso whe they defeated No. 1 seed South Dakota State in the Summit League, 79-76. However, two days later they lost to North Dakota State 76-73. A team that defeated them three times this year. They finished with a 10-21 record, but the year before  they finished 12-16, Wright’s best year as a head coach.

Wrigh takes  a holisti approac to coaching. He understands that when a high school athlete commits to Western, they do so to come here for more than just basketball. He encompasses the All-In mentality. He is all in on all aspects of the program. He helps raise these kids into adults. He puts a priority on health, bot menta an physical academics and persona success for the student-athletes Jus like  a colleg program should be ran. Wright was very proud about the academics his players uphold. “We had ou best team GPA in the fal semester    i was  a  3.24 That’s th secon highes in th histor of the program. Wright said.

Wright      has     exceptional      players i th classroo an o th court. Unfortunately it hasn’t shown up on the court. There is no doubt that academics are important. That’s why college athletes are called student-athletes. But, if he can get his players to perform the way they do in the classroom, the Leathernecks will be a force to be reckoned with in the Summit League, and maybe one day we’ll get to see them play in March Madness.