When the Hillsdale College men’s basketball team takes the court for its first game of the season on Nov. 3, it will face Michigan State University, one of the top Division I programs in the country, at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.
Senior guards Stedman Lowry and Ryan Badowski and junior point guard Nate Neveau will lead the team as the captains, but they are not the only Chargers who enter the season with ample experience. Junior forwards Jack Cordes, Gordon Behr, and Nick Czarnowski, along with junior guard Harrison Niego, also bring veteran leadership to the team.
Although the contest with Michigan State is an exhibition game and doesn’t contribute to the team’s overall record, head coach John Tharp said he sees it as a unique experience and learning opportunity for his players.
He said playing such an athletic team, with at least four NBA prospects on the roster, will certainly show where the team needs to improve.
“There are things that they do with the athletes they have and the length that they have and we are going to be as principle-oriented as we possibly can, but there will be times where it won’t matter,” he said.
After a sluggish performance by Michigan State against Ferris State, who, on Oct. 26, battled against the Spartans and tied at 60-all with seven minutes remaining in the game, sophomore center Matt Fisher thinks they have a shot.
“We are gonna have to scratch and claw,” Fisher said. “It is gonna be a battle.”
But senior guard Stedman Lowry, who said he is excited to play against Spartan forward Miles Bridges, said he thinks Spartan coach Tom Izzo wanted to light a fire under some of his players.
“I feel like Izzo likes to keep these games kind of close so he can chew the guys out,” he said. “That’s just what it seems like.”
As for the NBA talent the Chargers will face, including freshman center Jaron Jackson, sophomore forward Miles Bridges, and sophomore forward Nick Ward, Fisher said playing against that quality of player isn’t actually all that new.
“You see a lot of these guys at AAU tournaments when you are younger,” he said. “It is funny to see them now and realize that they will be making millions in a couple of months.”
Looking beyond Friday’s exhibition game, the Chargers also face the challenge of being the newest team in the G-MAC.
“Since the G-MAC started, basketball has been its signature sport,” Tharp said.
With Findlay University, No. 20 in the NCAA’s Division II preseason rankings, moving with Hillsdale from the GLIAC and Kentucky Wesleyan University, No. 24, the Chargers have tough rivals both new and old rivals in the conference.
Joining Hillsdale College in the move this year to the G-MAC are Findlay University, Lake Erie University, Ohio Dominican University, and Walsh College.
Though the change to the G-MAC is a big adjustment for the program, Tharp thinks it’s for the best.
“There was a part of me that loved the challenge of the GLIAC, you know, small academic institution playing against the gigantic state schools. Just loved that,” he said. “When the change came, I had mixed emotions. But I knew it was a good change for us, to be with like-minded schools.”
Tharp also expressed his excitement at a different brand of basketball that the Chargers are bringing to Dawn Tibbetts Potter Arena and other arenas in the midwest. He said that he hopes the Chargers will be better defensively.
Tharp also said that the team is going to play more up-tempo basketball. Lowry agrees.
“We will be able to play pretty fast this year. We have big guys who run the floor really well and Nate Neveu and Dylan Lowry are both good at pushing the ball,” he said.
The Chargers also have two freshman forwards, Tavon Brown and Austen Yarian, who may contribute this season.
“They have tremendous upside,” Tharp said. “Each practice you have moments where you say, ‘whoa, these guys are really talented,’ and then they have moments where you realize that they are freshmen and they don’t know what they’re doing.”
The Chargers face the Spartans at the Breslin Center on Friday at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $6 and can be purchased online.