It must be something in Pensacola’s air.
The University of West Florida athletic programs have had a stellar 2021 so far, and the men’s basketball team is following suit.
Led by head coach Jeff Burkhamer, the Argos are 4-0 for the first time since the 2017-18 season, a year in which they won their first-ever Gulf South Conference championship and have entered the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history. .
Since that historic season, the UWF has struggled through the following three campaigns, including one affected by the COVID pandemic. Now the team seems to be back on track.
“I really like our depth, we had a lot of guys who helped us win and be able to do different things,” said Burkhamer. “We play with different formations. Sometimes we have 5 entrances, 5 exits, sometimes we line up for situational stuff. Just a lot of guys walked in and gave us good minutes. “
The Argos started the season as road warriors, winning triumphs at Fort Valley State, Clark Atlanta and Tuskegee University.
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Finally, the team returned for its home opener on Sunday, beating Albany State in a last-second layup by second-year guard LaTrell Tate.
With six newcomers to this year’s list, early gelation has shown promise.
On the court, they have adapted to each other’s playing tendencies, and off the court, they enjoy each other’s company. Burkhamer says the team has already bought into the coaches’ vision.
“This group gets along wonderfully,” said Burkhamer. “They’ve trained well together, they love each other.… It’s a good mix of about half the ghosts and half the new guys, so it has been fun training this group so far.”
But the basketball season can get grueling. Late practices and 28 games throughout the cold winter months can adversely affect a program’s performance. You have to be built for the long haul to support any meaningful success.
Burkhamer recognizes that this roster may have the chance to play some of those important games down the stretch, which is why he and his team are already insisting on the saying: “evolve as you go through it”.
“We’re just trying to grow each day and improve.… So far we’ve found ways to win in tough environments and close games and that’s what we’re trying to build on,” Burkhamer said. “Let’s continue to improve throughout the year and play our best basketball in February.”
So far, things have gone as planned. The return of double from sophomore Daniel Sofield and junior Wendell Matthews helped his freshman teammates get to grips with the system and play winning basketball.
Sofield, last year’s top scorer, picked up where he left off. He was off for 17.3 points per game, shooting 3 points with a 41% clip. As a member of the All-GSC second team last season, expectations were high for him again this year, and he is up to the task.
Matthews is averaging 12.3 points per game to compliment Sofield, but he also collects 7.8 rebounds per night. The 6-foot-6 wing from Brooklyn Park, Minnesota scored 35 points last season, so his continued development has been nothing short of what the Argos have been expecting.
The rest of the team lined up.
“The guys did what we thought they could do and they embraced the roles they’re in right now,” Burkhamer said. “They have used their strengths and understand the strengths of their teammates and are playing for them as well.”
The next chance to catch the Argos at UWF Field House is Sunday at 3 p.m., when they host Georgia College in Milledgeville, Ga.
Lucas Semb can be contacted at [email protected] or 850-281-7414. Follow him on Twitter at @Lucas_Semb for stories and various Pensacola area score updates.
This article originally appeared in the Pensacola News Journal: University of West Florida men’s basketball starts the year 4-0