Four floors below, the gymnasium radiates energy as head coach Hank Smith leads the men's basketball team in a preseason practice, preparing the Lions for a potential Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) championship.,It's Monday night in Piano Row and distant screams overshadow the students having dinner in the Max.
Four floors below, the gymnasium radiates energy as head coach Hank Smith leads the men's basketball team in a preseason practice, preparing the Lions for a potential Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) championship.
For anyone who knows Coach Smith, playing for him is not the easiest thing in the world.
The constant screaming gets to player's and opponent's heads while they try to focus on running the offense. Sweat saturates their practice uniforms as they run up and down the court, trying to make the required number of sprints before the buzzer goes off. Their legs begin to shake as they hold their defensive positions until it's time to start sliding lane to lane while remaining in position.
Smith said he and his 14-player roster want one thing: to secure a bid to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament.
In the meantime, the team will continue to practice in preparation for their first game against William Patterson College in the Vassar College tournament on Nov. 16. The team's first home game will be on Nov. 20 against Babson College.
"I don't set a goal for how many points we score or how many we let up or how many wins we have," Smith said. "I want to win the league, and that's what we're going to do."
But it's not about seeing the team listed on the banner that hangs proudly in the two-year-old gym or about the recognition he and his team gets.
"I want the kids to have an experience playing in the NCAA tournament," Smith said. Smith's assistant coach, Shawn McCullion, played for Smith at Emerson from 1994 to 1997. Even though McCullion won the GNAC his senior year, the team was unable to earn a bid to the NCAA tournament.
With a talented veteran squad and a recruitied class of five freshmen, the Emerson men's basketball team expects to see an improvement from last season's record of 16-10.
The trio of guards Ben Chase, Will Dawkins and Joe Boylan were named this year's captains, and they hope their hard work will pay off this season.
"This is the most talented team we've had since I've been here," said Chase, a senior TV/video and marketing communication double major. "We just really need to listen to our coach and put in the effort that's required."
Dawkins said when Smith recruited his class, which includes his fellow captains, the talent to win a GNAC championship was apparent.
"We haven't done it so far, so it's now or never," said the senior broadcast journalism and media arts double major.
The last time the men won a GNAC championship was in 2001. Illness and injury to key players has plagued the team for the six years since.
Last year, then-freshman marketing communication major Bryan Rouse was the Lion's leading point scorer with 470 points on the season, but sat out the team's final six games after being diagnosed with mononucleosis. Dawkins also suffered from an injury toward the end of the season, but still managed to reach 1,000 points for his career.
Other players have also found themselves on the injured reserve list. Senior broadcast journalism major and transfer student Sammy Newman-Beck only played in a few select games in his Emerson career due to knee problems. He currently suffers from hamstring problems. Another transfer student, sophomore marketing communication major Tim McGhee, was out for the beginning of preseason this year due to a wrist injury.
Bumps and bruises aren't the only problem the Lions have encountered thus far. The team has been cursed with a short roster in the past, and this year is no exception. Only Rouse and freshman center Hector O'Farrill provide the Lions with the height needed to face tougher teams, a disadvantage the Lions must overcome when they face heavy rebounding opponents.
"We're undersized, so there's always a struggle on the boards," Chase said. "Boxing out and playing hard defense are probably the two toughest things for us because we're going against bigger, stronger opponents."
Emerson's recruiting coordinator Stan Nance said size doesn't necessarily mean anything on the court.
"The league is not a big league," Nance said. "But if you have the ability then you can compete."
Nance also said the men's basketball team has been one of the more successful programs because Smith has been a full time coach for 13 years, unlike many of the earlier coaches that would hold the position for just a few years. This way, he can get to know his players more personally.
Still, the men remain optimistic. Smith's offense, which consists of constant ball movement, looking inside the paint and hitting open shooters like sophomore guard Jeremy Shannon and freshman guard Tom Messinger, provides ample scoring opportunities. Forward Jon Showers, another new face on the team, will find himself in the rotation with his passing ability.
Chase said junior guard Anthony Remias and Boylan are the team's "utility guys," providing strong defensive presences on the court.
The team has some added depth off the bench with freshmen guards Johnny Mullen and Zach Cole, and senior guard Kyle Joyce will be playing for one semester before he leaves for Los Angeles in the spring.
The future is hard to predict, but with a strong recruiting class and elite returners, the Lions are hoping winning the GNAC will come as a result of their hard work.
"Literally, I could play just two minutes a game," said Boylan, a senior writing, literature and publishing major. "But if we win the GNAC title, that's what I'm concerned about."