Fresh start pays off for Adrian

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Jeremy Kalonji is one of several newcomers making an immediate impact for a reinvigorated Bulldogs program.
Adrian Athletics photo

By Joe Sager

Forget the stats. Don’t worry about the accolades. Just do your job. Play for your team.

That’s been the mantra for the Adrian men this season.

It’s proven to be a winning formula – the Bulldogs are 13-2 and atop the MIAA standings (4-0).

That’s quite a difference from last year when the team went 7-18 overall and 1-13 in conference play.

“It definitely is nice to see all of our hard work in the offseason pay off. For us, it doesn’t matter who gets the shot or how much playing time we get,” Adrian senior Justin Webster said. “We don’t look in the box scores to see who gets the most points or rebounds. All we care about is wins and doing what we can control. If we walk away being the hardest and toughest team to play against, that’s all we care about.”

Webster, the lone senior, has embraced his leadership role on and off the court.
Adrian Athletics photo

That was not the case last year for the Bulldogs, according to head coach Kyle Lindsay, who took over close to the start of the 2016-17 campaign.

“The No. 1 thing with these guys is their unselfishness. When I got this job, my first day was the first day of class. There was no time to recruit,” he said. “We dealt last year with a lot of selfishness. We did what we could last year. This year, we have better people and great kids – guys who would come here for right reason and not have an agenda of racking up stats or points.

“We knew this was going to be the year we really took steps forward. We knew how important it was to establish our culture and get it to where we want to be. We’ve tried to foster that team environment and, to their credit, they decided to buy in. We hold them accountable for that. I think it was key for us to have success early. I think that really helps them have confidence in what they’re doing.”

Adrian returned just one starter – Webster – and basically started over with younger players. Sophomores Jeremy Kalonji and Tre’Shon Heard join freshmen Jordan Harris and Sam Colbert in the starting lineup.

“It’s been really great to be a part of this. To see it all come together really well is great,” said Kalonji, a transfer from Saint Francis (Ind.). “I was paying attention to the team last year when I could. I wanted to be a part of it and try to help do what I could. To bring in the people we have – they are hungry, too. I think it helps us all to be focused. We all have the passion. We follow after each other. We’re trying to do it together as a team.”

Usually, the Bulldogs bring three freshmen (Cortiz Buckner, Kas Oganowski and Jared Sloop) and one sophomore (Keyon Rainey) off the bench.  

“We have freshmen, but they don’t seem like freshmen at all,” Kalonji said. “I know the roster says we’re young, but we know what they can do. They don’t think of themselves as being freshmen. They just play hard and that spreads confidence about the team.”

As the lone senior – and leading scorer at 20.1 points per game – Webster has embraced the leadership role.

“I am just trying to be the best leader I can be. These guys, it’s such a selfless group. The team cohesion and camaraderie is tremendous. We’ve all gotten super close,” he said. “These young guys don’t play like they’re young. We’ve played in some pretty hostile environments and they are fearless. That’s contagious. I am just so fortunate to be part of such a special group.

“These new guys, they don’t realize how hard it is to win at this level. Unfortunately, I’ve been on some losing teams my first three years. It makes this that much more special for me. Guys not knowing what to expect, I think that’s been a positive for us. Guys are so passionate about basketball and school. The guys having that drive in the classroom are carrying it over to the court.”

Adrian has won its last 10 games – its longest winning streak since it started 11-0 in 2012-13. The Bulldogs handed second-ranked Wisconsin-Whitewater one of its two losses on the year as well.

“They are very level-headed. Fearless is how I describe most of these guys. They let us coach them hard and let us hold them accountable. We just try to keep things very simple and focus on execution and effort. We put great focus, energy and effort in everything we do,” Lindsay said. “This has been a special group to be a part of. I am really proud of these guys and their effort so far. We got some key wins early on – the win over Whitewater gave us a lot of confidence. Sometimes, when you go on the run we have been able to go on, maybe it takes a win like that to spark it. We just hope to keep it going as long as we can.”


Joe Sager

Joe Sager is a freelance writer based in Pittsburgh. He has written about sports since 1996 for a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites. He first covered D-III football in 2000 with the New Castle (Pa.) News.

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