The smallest player listed on the Xavier men’s basketball roster leads the team with the biggest hopes in the Atlantic Ten Conference.
Musketeer’s point guard Drew Lavender is listed at 5-foot-7. He is also listed as a contender for the Bob Cousy Award, given to the nation’s top point guard.
More importantly, he is the leader of the Musketeers, picked to win the A-10 in a preseason poll conducted by coaches and media.
Though Lavender is aware of the individual accolades, his focus is assisting Xavier to repeat as regular-season A-10 champions.
“If we don’t go out and win a championship, the awards really don’t matter,” Lavender said. “I’d rather win then get the awards.”
Lavender said the conference will be highly competitive.
“I feel like there are a lot of tough teams out here that can win the title,” he said. “It’s a tough conference this year. We won the A-10 last year, so of course people will mention our name. It’s pretty tough to play in this conference.”
Among those expected to compete for the A-10 title are Rhode Island and Saint Joseph’s.
The Rams, picked to finish second, are led by first team all-conference forward Will Daniels, who averaged 17.4 points and 5.6 rebounds per game last season.
Daniels said the conference will be tough, because any team can become a surprise, as the Rams were last season.
“I feel like everyone is on the rise,” he said. “I know every school is getting better. Everyone in the conference is looking good. It’s a game every night. You can never take a night off. You have to go hard every game.”
The Rams reached the A-10 tournament final, which they dropped to George Washington. Daniels said the Rams have been stressing one state of mind.
“For us, its unfinished business,” he said. “That’s the mentality we’re going in with. We’re going to go after it and prove we deserve to be higher than No. 2. We have a lot of chemistry. We have a solid 10-man rotation and we’ll be great.”
Saint Joseph’s, led by First Team all-conference selection Ahmad Nivins, is predicted to finish third. The Hawks look to ride the low-post presence of Nivins and the pinpoint shooting of senior Pat Calathes, who hit his three-pointers at a 42 percent clip last season.
“The winners will come from who can win games on the road,” coach Phil Martelli said. That’s what it’s going to come down to – who can win games on the road.”
Thus, winning at home will be crucial, Martelli said.
“We have to make sure just because we’re home that we’re going to play well,” Martelli said. “I think it’s important to take advantage of that energy. We never expect to win. We work at it.”
Nivins is carrying high hopes.
“I think we’ll be a very formidable force in the conference and win a lot of games,” Nivins said. “The goal for our team is to get better every day. And we really want to win basketball games this year and tell people St. Joseph’s is here.”
Terrance McNeil can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.