This is how Newman men’s basketball coach Mark Potter works: Quick to praise, slow to criticize, always teaching.
He builds loyalty this way. He creates wins this way.
Last season showed that there might not be a ceiling to how high the Jets can rise behind him.
“I like our talent, I like our young men, which I know is what people say when they think their team isn’t going to be any good,” Potter said. “But I really think that. We’re a little behind where we were a year ago but there’s no reason we can’t win games.”
Newman ventured into uncharted territory last season with its first trip to the NCAA Division II Tournament, going 20-8 and losing to Midwestern State in the first round. The Jets also swept Kansas’ four MIAA teams, capped off by a win over No. 2 Washburn in Wichita.
Picked to finish third in the Heartland Conference preseason poll, Potter filled up his coffers in the offseason on the recruiting trail with several high-profile transfers, led by Otero Junior College guard Perryonte Smith, Oral Roberts forward Kris Obaseki and Northern Oklahoma-Enid forward Jeremy Espinoza, who averaged 15.4 points and 7.7 rebounds last season.
“Going to a junior college, you spend two years finding yourself, two years maturing and becoming a better leader,” Espinoza said. “I’m in a great situation at Newman with basketball and getting my education and with Coach Potter. He’s always telling me little things, hyping me up. I love it.”
Obaseki has been sidelined for the entire preseason with a knee injury but should be back by the end of November.
“Jeremy is already one of our better ballplayers,” Potter said. “He’s a warrior.”
There are also plenty of veterans in the mix. Coldwater native Trae Beck, a 6-foot-3 senior guard, averaged 7.5 points and led the Jets in three-point shooting (35.2 percent). Marquis Cuyler, a 6-5 senior forward, averaged 10 points and 4.3 rebounds.
“We’ve got some good recruits that have come in,” Beck said. “I think it’s going to be a fun year. I wouldn’t say I was surprised by how well we played last year because we had such good leadership with Bobby (Wesley), who every single day was getting people where they needed to be and in the right state of mind.
“We’ve got to find that leadership somewhere this season, we know that.”
Wesley’s leadership will be missed on the court, but he’s also back as a graduate assistant.
“It’s already happened a couple of times in practice where we’ll have moments that, right there, if we don’t develop leadership, there’s not enough timeouts in a game to fix what’s wrong,” Potter said. “Jeremy and Trae both have that kind of personality to lead, but it’s still developing. It’s one of those things that keeps me up a little bit at night.”
The Jets open the season on Saturday against West Texas A&M in Wichita.
Ciabbatoni is joined by another Australian on this year’s roster in 6-1 freshman forward Tessa Ramsey, who averaged 11.6 points and 6.1 rebounds for Box Hill Senior Secondary College.
Newman opens the regular season Saturday against Rockhurst in Wichita.