FAIRBORN — Scott Nagy is entering his third season as Wright State University’s men’s basketball coach. Players and fans know what Nagy’s teams should look like — fundamentally sound, gritty on defense, good decision-makers on offense.
It’s a look the Raiders and their fans are getting used to. They’re also beginning to get used to winning.
“We are at a level now where there is no more transition,” Nagy said. “The transition is over. We believe these guys know exactly what to expect from me, and we know what to expect from them.”
Wright State was chosen by many major publications and websites, including the Official Horizon League Poll, to win the league title.
The Raiders (25-10, 14-4) are coming off a memorable 2017-‘18 season during which they won the Horizon League tournament championship and qualified for the third NCAA tournament appearance in school history. Nagy was named the league’s coach of the year.
“For a coach, there are two challenges—either getting the team to believe more in themselves or getting a team to stay hungry after success,” Nagy said. “I don’t think we have that first challenge any more. The struggle now is staying motivated, staying hungry, staying humble, continuing to work hard, and not listening to the people who tell you how great you are.”
Wright State returns five of its top seven scorers and will be the choice of many to defend its title.
The most significant missing piece is fierce and fearless Grant Benzinger, who led the team in scoring (14.3 points per game) and floor burns.
“The things that are hard to quantify, his energy and toughness, and going to be the hardest to replace,” Nagy said.
From a strictly basketball standpoint, this year’s Raiders will revolve around Loudon Love.
The 6-foot-9, center was the league’s Freshman of the Year after averaging 12.9 points and 9.7 rebounds. Love had sat out the previous two seasons after suffering a horrific knee injury in high school football. He made good use of that time, dropping from 318 pounds to his current 280 and gaining physical maturity and athleticism.
“He continues to get better at not turning the ball over and at free throw shooting,” Nagy said. “That (free throws) is important for him and for us, because we are going to try to lead the nation in post touches.”
That means a more significant role for 6-11 senior Parker Ernsthausen, who had some of the best games of his career during last year’s postseason. Ernsthausen averaged 5.3 points and 2.6 rebounds.
“He excels on defense and (opponents) can’t leave him alone out on the perimeter,” Nagy said. “He may shoot more threes than twos this season.”
Senior guard Mark Hughes was named to the league’s All-Defensive team and was often assigned to the other team’s top shooter. He led the Raiders with 105 assists and averaged 9.7 points.
“He’s as good as anyone in the league defensively, and we believe there is potential for even more production from him offensively,” Nagy said.
The other returning full-time starter is point guard Cole Gentry, a transfer from South Dakota State who quarterbacked the team’s turnaround after becoming eligible at the end of the first semester. Gentry averaged 9.1 points and 2.6 assists in 25 games.
“He certainly made a big impact last year, and we think he will score more for us this year,” Nagy said.
Jaylon Hall played in 33 games as a true freshman and will see plenty of action at all three perimeter positions after averaging 9.1 points a year ago.
“Defensively, he had improved the most of all of our players by the end of the season,” Nagy said.
Seniors Alan Vest and Adam Giles played in a combined 21 games in reserve roles last season.
The Wright State roster includes seven new faces.
Junior small forward Bill Wampler sat out last season after transferring from Drake, where he averaged 9.6 points as a sophomore. He is one of the Raiders’ best shooters. James Manns, a 6-7 freshman who also sat out last year after a season at prep school, “can really score,” Nagy said.
Freshman Skyelar Potter just turned 18 in August, but “looks like he’s 24,” according to Nagy. He will see time at the 2-guard (shooting guard) and on the wing. Another freshman, Malachi Smith, will contend for playing time in both guard roles.
Grant Basile, a 6-foot-8 freshman, is on the comeback trail from foot and ankle injuries, but is a skilled post player who will become more effective as his perimeter game develops.
Jack Hendricks (Kettering Fairmont) and Andy Neff (Oakwood), a pair of walk-ons from the area, add depth.
Last year’s team was picked to finish fifth in the league during the preseason. This time around, the expectations will be much higher—which is just fine with Nagy.
“You accomplish more when people set high goals,” Nagy said. “We don’t want people to set low goals and then meet them.
“We want our players to pursue excellence. Pursuing excellence means you have to show up every day. Excellence doesn’t happen by accident. It happens because, every day, that’s what you expect.”
The Wright State men’s basketball team opened the 2018-‘19 season on Wednesday, Nov. 7 against Western Carolina at the Nutter Center.
Story courtesy of Wright State University Athletics, for more information visit www.wsuraiders.com.