Will The Mules Kick?: Colby Men’s Basketball Season Preview

Colby College Mules

Losing Patrick Stewart is a huge blow to a team that didn’t find any NESCAC success in 2017. Also gone are Joe Connelly and Max Steiner who started and saw significant time last year. That leaves the rebuilding Mules with G Ethan Schlager ’19, F Sean Gilmore ’20, and a host of players looking to crack the starting lineup. Potential starters are newcomers G Wallace Tucker ’21 and G Matt Hanna ’21, the 2017 sixth man G Tyler Williams ’20, F Steven Daley ’19, G Alex Dorian ’20, and G Sam Jefferson ’20. The positive takeaways from last year include a much higher ceiling for 2018, a host of experience for the Mules’ young players, and plenty of competition in the preseason for spots up for grabs. Coach Strahorn emphasized that while the Mules lack a big rebounding presence in their front court (Jefferson and Daley both out-rebounded the 6’7” Gilmore), but will attempt to make up for it with their pace of play. The Mules play with a smaller, guard-heavy lineup and don’t have a true center, but this allows for a fast game speed. There should be a collective rebounding effort from the guards with a nose for the ball and the few with more size, although they will need to improve in the paint to make a noticeable transition out of NESCAC obscurity. Coach Strahorn is also excited about first year players Hanna and Tucker who are dynamic players that can force penetration on offense, pushing opponent defenses to collapse and rotate. At this point in the year with a developing program, Coach Stahorn said that up to 14 players have the ability to carve out a role this season. The season’s just around the corner, and the Mules need somebody to step up with Stewart no longer in the picture.

2016-2017 record: 10-14 (.417); 1-9 (.100) (NESCAC)

Playoffs: Did not play playoffs

Key Losses:

  • G Joe Connelly ‘17 (21.3 MPG, 7.8 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 2.1 APG)
  • F Patrick Stewart ‘17 (29.2 MPG, 16.1 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 1.5 APG)

Projected Starting Lineup:

  • G Ethan Schlager ‘20 (22.7 MPG, 6.7 PPG, 2.3 APG, 3.3 RPG)
Ethan Schlager
Ethan Schlager ’20 (Courtesy of Colby Athletics)

The sophomore guard will play a critical role in the Mules’ 2017-2018 campaign. As a freshman last year, Schlager logged an impressive 22.7 Min/G. Schlager’s role this year will grow even larger with the loss of G Joe Connelly. The sophomore guard dished out 2.3 assists per game last year, and that statistic will have to go up even further if the Mules want to improve their offense from a season ago. Easier said than do, however, with the loss of F Patrick Stewart. Stewart’s finishing ability and offensive prowess led him to be the best Mule scorer by far. He will likely be one of the leading assist men for the Mules this year. The Choate alum showed he could put the ball in the basket, but he needs to improve his field goal percentage if the Mules seriously want to content. His 38.1 FG % from the field last year needs to improve to around 45%-50% if he wants to be depended upon as an efficient scorer. He did show decent range with a 39.8% three point percentage. With Connelly out of the picture, Schlager’s effectiveness as a guard who facilitates and scores at an efficient clip is essential to Colby’s success.

  • Sam Jefferson ‘20 (24.1 MPG, 7.8 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.6 APG)
Sam Jefferson
Sam Jefferson ’20 (Courtesy of Colby Athletics)

Jefferson, a Newton, Massachusetts native, played in all twenty-four games for the Mules last season. He averaged about twenty-four minutes per game, which shows his dependency. The 6’ 4” two guard snagged four rebounds per game and posted nine points per game in NESCAC play. With the loss of Stewart, the main offensive weapon in Colby’s arsenal, Jefferson needs to step up his offensive game. Similar to Schlager, his field goal percentage dipped below 40% last year. Without Stewart, more defensive attention will be given to both Schlager and Jefferson. Therefore, it’s imperative to the two guards to swing the ball wing to wing and toss passes down to the post to keep the defensive on its heels. More open looks will be generated by ball movement, and probably greater shooting efficiency will occur. If Colby wants to win, Jefferson will need to score the ball more efficiently, and generate more open looks, which will in turn bring up his assist numbers.

  • G Alex Dorion ‘20 (16.1 MPG, 4.2 PPG, 1.2 RPG, 1.2 APG)
Alex Dorion
Alex Dorian ’20 (Courtesy of Colby Athletics)

Dorion shot a lot of threes last year. To have the audacity to shoot that many threes as a freshman is something to tip your cap to. However, shooting in the low 30%’s for three isn’t necessarily great. Adding to that, shooting overall in the 30%’s doesn’t make me want to pick him as the man Colby depends on like they did for Stewart. Nevertheless, freshman year is over. NESCAC basketball moves at a much faster rate than most high school leagues, so a year under the belt for Dorion is crucial. After an offseason of lifting and working on his shooting form, I think he can turn into a three point assassin. He has decent size for a guard, and he’s sneakily athletic. He gets into good position to get steals and draw charges. Again, do I think he’ll be the difference maker for the Mules? No. I do think that he’ll make a positive impact if he cracks the starting lineup, which I think he will. He doesn’t have the three point prowess of a J.J. Reddick or Kyle Korver, but I think he can be like a decent catch and shoot guy like Steve Novak.

  • F Sean Gilmore ‘20 (16.3 MPG, 7.7 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 1.7 APG)
Sean Gilmore
Sean Gilmore ’20 (Courtesy of Colby Athletics)

Colby’s frontcourt is headlined by 6’ 7” Sean Gilmore, who looks to build off a successful freshman campaign. Gilmore provides rim protection for the Mules; he led the team in blocks last year with twenty-four. Even though he only averaged around sixteen minutes per game, I see him playing a larger role this year with Stewart having graduated. Obviously in this day in age of three point basketball, rebounds remain paramount with either generating second chance opportunities or preventing them. As the rim protector of the team, Gilmore’s 2.8 rebounds per game will have to drastically improve from last year. I know he played a lesser role last season, but as someone who’s one of the bigger guys on the court, he has to use his footwork to get position on those rebounds. In the 2016 NBA Finals, Tristan Thompson was one of the major reasons why Cleveland won due to his size, rim protection, and rebounding ability. Gilmore has two of those attributes, and I’m sure a year in the league has only enhanced his anticipation skills, footwork, and box out ability.

  • F Steven Daley ‘19 (15.6 MPG, 4.9 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 0.8 APG)
Steven Daley
Steven Daley ’19 (Courtesy of Colby Athletics)

With limited depth in the front court, Daley’s transition from underclassmen to upperclassmen will be put to the test the season. The 6’ 4” Daley reminds me of a player similar to Draymond Green. An undersized four who’s athletic, can shoot, and tough inside seems like the common trend in basketball nowadays. Daly is no different. A football and basketball player at Roxbury Latin, Daley can bang with the big boys in the paint, but can also defend a smaller guard on a switch out on the perimeter. The numbers from last year don’t jump out at you, but I think that’s Colby’s mantra anyways. There’s no one player, with Stewart gone, who’s going to burn a defense. Each player has to make steady contributions to the offense, and Daley is no exception. What really stood out to me from last year is his field goal percentage. With the guards shooting relatively inefficiently, a 50.5% from the field lit up my eyes. I think the biggest takeaway from Daley and Gilmore is that they have to set the tone for the team. Both these guys have to be a physical force down in the paint because I don’t have much faith in the guards’ ability to compensate for Connelly and Stewart’s departure.

Key Player: G Ethan Schlager ‘20

The common theme in the article is how to make up for the offense that Patrick Stewart gave to the Mules. The man averaged sixteen points per game, while the next guy didn’t even come close to that. Further, the loss of another offensive threat in the form of Joe Connelly hurts the Mules’ offense even more. This is where Ethan Schlager comes in. I think that he has to take the roles of both Connelly and Stewart combined if the Mules want to be successful. If that’s the case, all his numbers have to go up. And I mean every important offensive statistic. For one thing, he has to be a better facilitator. Without as many scorers as last year, it’s imperative for him to use his basketball IQ to get his teammates clean, open looks. Next, his field goal percentage needs to climb. This improvement not only comes in the form of better shots, but having confidence. With Stewart and Connelly gone, Schlager needs to think of himself as the man. He has to be the one who carries the team. If that field goal percentage rises above 45%, I believe his points will climb as well. I’m not saying he has to be a walking double double every night, but he needs to be awful close for Colby to make a serious improvement from last year.

Everything Else:

There’s isn’t much to say about last season for the Mules. With only one conference win, there isn’t anywhere to go but up. The Mules have to keep that in mind all season. With teams like Williams, Middlebury, Amherst, and Wesleyan in the league, Colby needs to take each game one at a time. Looking at all those big names can be daunting, but understanding that any improvement is beneficial is a necessity. Also, understanding the team’s state right now is imperative. Colby only graduated two seniors last year. The projected starting lineup is made up of all underclassmen with the exception of Daley. Colby will remain relatively young for the foreseeable future. As much as I’ve grown to disdain this phrase because of its repetition, I’ll invoke it now because I think it’s entirely applicable: “Trust the Process.” Like the Sixers, it’s hard for me to say that Colby’s going good this year. Every team should have confidence in themselves, but as an impartial writer, I’m not going to sit here and say that Colby will miraculously be one of the best teams in such a competitive conference. Connelly and Stewart’s departures definitely don’t help the Mules either. There are some glimmers of hope, however, especially in Colby’s backcourt. For a team that ranked the worst in the league in points last year, the team astonishingly ranked second in assists. Keep the ball moving; shots will eventually fall. The young guards shouldn’t be shaken with their poor shooting from last year. If they stick with it, the shots will fall if they trust all the work they’ve put in in the offseason. In conclusion, don’t look for the Mules to wow you with improvement, but I think they can pick up a few more wins this year in order to escape the bottom of the league. 

Strong Starting Five for Mules: Colby Season Preview


Editor’s Note: Things can be a little confusing now that the season is underway. Consider the rest of our previews as season predictions based off of a compilation of conversations with coaches and players and observations from the first couple of games.
All statistics that appear next to players’ names are from the 2014-15 season.

The high point for the Mules last season was a span of less than 24 hours after they had beaten Hamilton to move to 3-0 in NESCAC play and stood atop the NESCAC standings. From then on, the schedule stiffened and the wheels came off for a 1-6 finish and the eighth seed in the NESCAC tournament.

Oh, and their best player Chris Hudnut ’16 was lost to a knee injury for the second half of the NESCAC season. The Mules never caved in any games, and they came incredibly close to upsetting Trinity in the first round of the NESCAC playoffs. A few important players are gone because of graduation, but the core, made up of a huge 2016 class, is back to try to get Colby out of the middle of the NESCAC standings.

2014-2015 Season: 13-12 overall, 4-6 NESCAC (t-8th); lost to Trinity in NESCAC quarterfinals 66-63; did not qualify for NCAAs.

Head Coach: Damien Strahorn (Colby ’02), 5th year, 41-57 (.418)

Returning Starters: Five

G Luke Westman ’16 (13.1 ppg, 73.2% FG, 1.9 A/TO, 4.8 rpg)
G Ryan Jann ’16 (13.4 ppg, 38.5% 3PT, 5.8 rpg)
F Patrick Stewart ’16 (11.4 ppg, 43.3% 3PT, 6.9 rpg, stats from 2013-2014)
F Sam Willson ’16* (11.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 87.9% FT)
F/C Chris Hudnut ’16 (19.7 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 2.8 apg)

*Started all 25 games after Stewart ’16 injured his back in prior to the start of the regular season.

When healthy, these five seniors are the best group of seniors any NESCAC team can throw out there, and they offer balance and ball-sharing in a lot of places. Willson and Stewart are both more power forwards than wings, which won’t be much of a problem on offense because both of them are able to hit from deep. On defense though, the Mules will have to worry about keeping up with smaller teams that will push the ball and try to take advantage of the Mules lack of defensive speed.

Projected Starting Five:

PG Luke Westman ’16

This point guard comes into his senior year as a co-captain of this Colby team. Westman is a player who has the ability to fill the score sheet in different ways. He is never going to shoot threes, but he does almost everything else. While being the most consistent mid-range shooter for Colby, he also will be an important player in facilitating the offense, as well as strengthening the backcourt defensively with his ability to force turnovers. He’s arguably the most athletic point guard in the NESCAC also.

SG Ryan Jann ’16

Last season, Jann led the team in 3PT field goal percentage (38.5) which helped open things up underneath for teammate Chris Hudnut ’16. Averaging a team second best 13.4 ppg, Jann’s role as a scorer will surely be called on again, and in heavier doses considering the loss of Colby’s other 3-point weapon Connor O’Neil ’15. The key is balancing that volume with efficiency so that Jann is not taking shots away from Hudnut.

G/F Sam Willson ’16

After Patrick Stewart ’16 was lost for the season with a back injury, Willson was asked to step into the four spot and fill the empty space in the starting rotation. Willson quickly adjusted to his role underneath providing the Colby offense with a weapon to complement Chris Hudnut inside the paint. Even when Hudnut went down and Willson had to play center, he fought valiantly and was able to do enough to keep Colby in games.

F Patrick Stewart ’16

Stewart comes into this year as one of the biggest uncertainties for the Mules. It’s already been well documented that he missed his entire junior season with a back injury, after being a consistent starter since his freshman year. While he’s stationed down low on paper, Stewart has the ability to drift out beyond the arc and knock down the long shot. That threat from three is something most NESCAC coaches dream of in their forwards, and Stewart has it for real.

F/C Chris Hudnut ’16

Co-captain Chris Hudnut has been the go-to guy for Colby since he was brought into the program three years ago. The team leader in points per game and rebounds per game, his presence will be greatly appreciated after he went down last year with an ACL tear 17 games into the season. The best part of his game has to be his crafty moves in the post, but don’t count him out for a three pointer here and there, as Hudnut has the confidence to take any shot on the floor if left open.

Breakout Player: G Joe Connelly ’17

Assuming the Mules don’t catch the health bug this year like they did in their 2014-2015 campaign, the starting five is projected to be all seniors. That being said, one player that seems poised for a breakout year is junior guard Joe Connelly. Connelly appeared in all 25 games for Colby last year, and although he didn’t have electric numbers that would cause opposing defenses to fear him, it’s clear that Coach Strahorn has a lot of confidence in his game. Connelly is a player whose motor can run with the best in the NESCAC, and who’s not afraid to get inside the paint to help out with the rebounding game of the Mules. With or without injuries to the starting five, I believe Connelly will be a player who will provide a spark for this team.

Everything Else:

If you haven’t gathered it by now, the big story for Colby going into their 2015-2016 season is whether or not they can stay healthy. While the losses of Stewart and Hudnut last year were significant blows to the team’s success, it gave upcoming players an opportunity to step up and make their presence known. The depth of this team is something that their head coach has noted as being a strength going into this year. Besides Connelly, guards Pat Dickert ’18 and John Gallego ’16 provide more offensive play-making off the bench.

The Class of 2016, which makes up the entire starting five, plus a few more, was the first recruiting class of Coach Strahorn. The seniors will be the driving force of this team, and while they have all contributed up to this point, it will be interesting to see how successful they will be as one unit out on the court together.

One big question going into this year is whether or not Colby can find a way to shore up their defense. We said the same thing last season, but I can’t say we saw any improvement as they were ranked second to last in the NESCAC in points per game (72.1). Offensively they have the weapons both inside the paint and beyond the arc to challenge opposing defenses, but in the end defense is going to be something to watch for the Mules this season.