Preseason poll puts men in fifth, but they are working to prove that’s a mistake

When the team walks down the hall from the men’s locker room towards the Ragan-Brown Field House court, they pass a sign that says, “Protect This House.” The coaches who helped prepare them for the upcoming season are unaware that some of our Quaker men have taken a silent oath to do just this.

“To me (the sign) means to show your opponent what Guilford is about,” said first-year guard Mahmoud Henderson in an email interview. “Guilford is a family and nothing will break us.”

On Nov. 10, the Guilford campus was invited to meet the team that will be taking us into the 2015-2016 basketball season.

The game had already started when I arrived. Initially my eyes focused on the court, but as I took my spot on the bleachers, my attention quickly diverted to the area around the bench.

Even though the team was playing against one another, separated only by where they sat and grey and cardinal jerseys, one could tell they were still a part of the same squad. Both sides had their over-shirts thrown across the bench and floor like there was this mad rush to get onto the court.

“I am ready to play my first game already,” said first-year forward Alston Thompson. “I just want to play ball.”

Head men’s basketball coach Thomas Palombo was sitting in the stands watching a multitude of things. Within 10 minutes he had instructed someone to wipe the court so his players would not slip, communicated to both his assistant and associate head coach who were coaching opposite teams, spoken to his players from the bleachers, walked out onto the floor and kept an eye on the commentators and their manning of the scoreboard.

“As a head coach you are the caretaker of the entire program,” said Palombo in an email interview. “You can’t just zero in on one thing.”

Regardless of the fact they are a team, they go against each other as if they are at war, forcing one another to bring nothing but their “A” game to the court.

“My mindset was if we can all play this well against each other and couldn’t stop each other, no other team can stop us,” said sophomore shooting guard Justen Best in an email interview. “Playing the first game of the season is very exciting but that’s when it gets even more serious and we have to focus even more.”

On Nov. 14, the team meets at 10 a.m. for a vigorous day of practice. Music fills the stands, taking the place of where team supporters would usually be.

No rewards are given for individual showboating, a reminder that games are not won on the back of a single individual. However, when they successfully complete a play as a team, the team receives positive feedback.

It is this “team” mindset that could potentially take Guilford to the championship.

“When I was playing against my teammates I realized that everyone is an asset to the team and a piece of the puzzle,” said Thompson.

It is easy for those looking in from the outside to make predictions on how a season will go because they are not the athlete who sleeps, eats and breathes the sport.

“I think we will do much better this season than people think we will,” said junior guard Trever Hyatt in an email interview. “Especially better than our preseason rank of fifth.”

After all, the Old Dominion Athletic Conference is not a conference to shirk your shoulders at.

“The ODAC is one of the best conferences in the country,” said junior guard Michael Reiney. “Last year the conference had two teams make it to the NCAA Elite Eight and one make it to the Final Four.

“We know that we face tough competition.”

Everyone in the community should come out and support the team. The possibility for what the season could be is endless.

“I love coaching and teaching the guys,” said Palombo. “Just being around the development of the players and the team is what I like best about coaching.

“At the end of the day, if they have developed as people and players, we have done our job regardless of our record.”

But above all else, when you have players who believe in the values of the school, you are already one step ahead.

“I know that we have a tradition of excellence here at Guilford College and will most likely prove ourselves to be much better than that (ODAC poll rank),” said junior guard Cameran Carl-Jacques.

Each player has something to play for.

“There are many factors that drive me to play basketball with so much care and passion,” said Henderson. “Growing up in Saudi Arabia for most of my life, I always dreamt of becoming a student athlete. It feels like a dream having the privilege to be able to call myself a student-athlete.”

They have winning in their veins.

“Win by all means. I don’t think about losing unless we already have lost,” said Thompson.

My prediction for this season? Every team that comes up against the Quakers will not forget the day they played against Guilford College.

These guys have and will always give 100 percent effort. This I can guarantee.