While the 2008-2009 edition of West Chester University men’s basketball may have fallen short of its eventual goal of winning a PSAC championship after dropping an 85-74 decision to archrival Cheyney. One would be hard-pressed to call this season a failure. In fact, if comparing it to pre-season expectations, West Chester finished leaps and bounds ahead of the experts’ prognostications.
Following a 2007-2008 12-15 season which featured a paltry 3-9 PSAC East record, very few around the PSAC expected much from the Golden Rams.
While they returned a good nucleus, some of the biggest questions revolved around the Golden Ram bench and new head coach Damien Blair. The bench featured a plethora of unproven players and few knew what to expect.
Blair, one of the greatest players in WCU history and a highly successful coach at nearby Downingtown High, was replacing Dick Delaney, the most successful coach in WCU history. Pre-season polls tabbed the Golden Rams for the seventh spot in the PSAC East, ahead of only Bloomsburg and just behind Shippensburg. For the Golden Rams’ sake, it’s a great thing that they don’t play the games on paper and base the season’s results off of a pre-season poll.
WCU’s own version of the Boston Celtics’ Big Three, comprising of juniors Kenneth St. George, Ralph Hegamin and Kehinde Roberts, carried the Golden Rams to their first playoff birth since the 2005-06 season.
Hegamin, who was named to the All-PSAC East First Team, led the conference in rebounding with 9.9 rebounds per game and finished seventh in the conference in scoring with 17.8 points per game. Hegamin built himself a great case for PSAC East Player of the Year and looked like he might win the award.
However, Kutztown’s Dave Ben, who has ranked amongst the league’s elite players since the day he walked on campus, won the honor after his outstanding season.
A year after being named to the All-PSAC second team, St. George made a leap to the first team this season after averaging 16.8 points per game. The smooth guard led the team in free throw percentage, hitting 78.4 percent of his attempts and also chipped in 3.6 rebounds per game.
Swingman Kehinde Roberts made the All-PSAC second team following a season where he averaged 13.9 points per game and 5.2 rebounds per game. Roberts led the entire PSAC in three-point shooting percentage as he made 46.2 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc.
However, individual success means very little unless it comes with team success. This season, the Golden Rams arrived way ahead of schedule and showed the league that it will be a team that can contend for the PSAC title in 2009-10.
In 07-08, the team won three PSAC games all year. In 08-09, they had won three PSAC games after their first three attempts. The team would finish with nine PSAC wins as part of their 18-win campaign.
Coach Blair emphasized the defensive side of the ball and it paid off as WCU finished fifth overall in scoring defense in the PSAC as they allowed just 65.1 points per game and third against defending the three-point shot, allowing a mere 30.5 percent of the opposition’s attempts.
The Golden Rams will return the bulk of their team next season as they will lose just two seniors, point guards Kevin Stokes and Anthony Haley. Stokes’ scrappy defense and floor savvy and Haley’s outside shooting will undoubtedly be sorely missed, but the Golden Rams are lucky that they only lose two players.
WCU has all the tools to make a run at the PSAC crown as well as an NCAA tournament bid. If the Golden Rams can improve on offense and if they can find a consistent option as a fourth and fifth scorer, there will be no team in the conference that could match WCU’s depth.
Matt Chandik is a fourth-year student majoring in Spanish with a minor in Journalism. He can be reached at MC618553@wcupa.edu.