Texas Wesleyan men’s basketball team is enjoying a very successful season, and head coach Brennen Shingleton wants his players to live in the moment.
“We’re living for the now,” Shingleton said last Friday, one day before the Rams beat Southwestern Christian University 97-78 to extend their winning streak to nine games and stay undefeated at home. “I really want the guys to enjoy this process and I want them to value all the hard work they have put in at this point.”
Heading into Thursday night’s matchup against John Brown University the Rams had a 19-4 record, good enough to be ranked No. 8 in the latest National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) poll and sit atop the Sooner Athletic Conference. Last year at this time, the team was 14-9, including a 1-8 record in the SAC.
Senior guard Jerell Ellis also said that the team is working to keep focused.
“We all have a goal,” Ellis said. “We’ve been putting in the work every day. Every week we say that we want to go 2-0 for that week and not look too far ahead.”
Senior guard Doug Compton credits Shingleton for doing a “great job of making sure that we are out of our comfort zone and making practices uncomfortable, so when we get into the game it’s light.”
Junior forward Trevon Jeffery wants the team to “stay hungry” because they haven’t accomplished anything yet and have not won any championship rings.
On Jan. 30, the Rams defeated Mid America Christian 91-71 on the road. The Evangels were the SAC’s first place team at that time and ranked No. 7 nationally.
“If you had told me we would have [won] before the game I would have laughed you,” Shingleton said.
Senior forward Chris Gracela said the win against the Evangels “goes back to preparation” and he loved the energy his team brought.
“It’s always great to go in and beat the No.1 team in the conference,” Gracela said.
However, Shingleton said the Rams’ 86-56 victory over the University of Science and Arts on Feb. 4 surprised him the most.
“It’s easy to get up for somebody you got to go take something from,” Shingleton said. “That night, they (Science and Arts) were trying to take something from us, and we still put the foot on them.”
Shingleton added that he had to actually tell his team to “take the foot off” Science and Arts because he “didn’t want to send a statement of arrogance.”
Gracela said the energy from the win against the Evangels kept the team in high spirts.
“We still had a lot of energy from that game and took it over to Science and Arts,” Gracela said. “We were able to get a great win with them.”
The Rams have also won a lot of SAC weekly awards. Ellis has won three player of the week awards since the start of the season; junior guard Dion Rogers won the award this week after his 25-point game against SCU on Saturday.
Ellis, who won the NAIA national player of the week award for Jan. 25-31, said that while winning the award was great, he wants more.
“As soon as I found out I won I was excited,” Ellis said. “But that excitement immediately turned to focus, I want everyone to have the feeling that we all won something.”
Ellis, Gracela, Compton and Jeffery agree that the 72-67 loss to Oklahoma City on Dec. 8 and 62-60 loss to SCU on Jan. 9 were turning points of the season.
“We beat ourselves, and we didn’t come prepared,” Compton said. “Things that needed to be said were said in the locker room after the games, and I think that brought us closer as a team.”
Shingleton said the biggest difference between last year’s team and this year’s is depth, leadership and having a group of unselfish men.
“Everybody on this team has given something up,” he said. “I got guys that went from being 30 game starters a year ago to coming off the bench. We have guys on the bench that could go out and get 30 points if they played 30 minutes, but they’re coming off the bench and playing a role. It’s an unbelievable friendship and relationship that they are building.”
Compton said that this year’s team plays every game like it’s the last.
“We all have one goal in mind, and that’s to win conference and make an even bigger run in the national tournament,” he said. “Like Jerell said, 2-0 each week is our goal.”
The Texas Wesleyan University Rams will play the John Brown University Golden Eagles at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Sid Richardson Center. Admission is free.