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Sunday, April 21, 2024
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AU Basketball builds off winter play to prep for game against Lehigh

Alex Paquin filled his winter break at AU with three team dinners at the Cheesecake Factory, six seasons of One Tree Hill episodes and countless four-hour basketball practices.

The freshmen guard spent nearly his entire holiday vacation in living in a temporary dorm in Leonard Hall with his teammates, commuting from the residence halls to the gym each day for grueling workouts. His daily routine involved very little besides eating, sleeping and playing basketball.

“I didn’t think [winter break] would be that hard,” Paquin said. “I expected it to be much easier. I’m used to spending Christmas with my family and having at least two weeks off of basketball, but I guess I got used to it, and it was fun because it was pretty much only basketball.”

The days started early for the Eagles during the school break, and the team met nearly every morning at 8 a.m. in Bender for a group breakfast prior starting their workouts. When they weren’t traveling, they followed the meal with a lift in the weight room with strength coach Sean Foster before progressing into several hours of practicing their shots, running team drills and fine-tuning game plays.

“It’s hard to get ready for it, especially if you’ve never done it before,” Paquin said. “You have to get through it, and you have to make the best out of it and just work hard, and it goes by fast. At first it’s kind of hard, but then you build a routine and it gets easier and easier.”

“Pee Wee just has this great attitude. He’s always pushing you, always encouraging you. I really like him as a leader, he’s always positive and trying to help you grow as a player and as a person.” — Alex Paquin, freshman guard

Paquin, a Quebec native, credits team captains Darius “Pee Wee” Gardner and John Schoof for their leadership and ability to keep the team positive and enthusiastic during the intense practices and close games on the road.

“We have a good captain core here,” Pacquin said. “They know it’s a grind. Pee Wee and John, they’re always there for us.”

When AU takes on Lehigh University at 7:30 p.m. tonight in their fifth home match of the season, the team will depend on Gardner and Schoof for their leadership, as well as their ability on the court. Gardner recently scored 12 points against Colgate, and his last-second shot at the end of regulation pushed the game into one overtime and then another, where AU eventually triumphed 71-69.

“Pee Wee just has this great attitude,” Paquin said. “He’s always pushing you, always encouraging you. I really like him as a leader, he’s always positive and trying to help you grow as a player and as a person.”

Senior forward Kevin Panzer agreed that the older members of the team help support the underclassmen during the tough winter weeks when players may be used to seeing their families. The heavy travel schedule also didn’t give the team much time to permanently settle into campus, and Panzer said he is excited to start the second semester with a home game in Bender Arena.

“I’m looking forward to playing in front of the crowd,” Panzer said. “The crowd is loud, and they get you hyped.”

AU played 12 of their first 15 games on the road, and only 19 other teams in the country started the season with three or less home games. The Eagles traveled to four different universities while the rest of the student body enjoyed a break from campus life. They earned a big win on the road against La Salle University on Dec. 16, defeating the Explorers in overtime 68-66.

“It’s definitely helpful to play the first part of the season away, get used to the hostile crowds cheering against us because that will get us ready for all these games that we are about to play away,” junior guard Marko Vasic said.

Vasic has grown accustom to spending his holidays at AU, and if the season progresses as it did last year, he will not return home to Serbia for spring break either because the team will be practicing for the NCAA Tournament.

“When I decided to come to the States to go to school and play basketball, I knew what I was giving away for that, and at the end of the day, if I think about that stuff, missing family, missing home, I always think about what I’m doing here,” Vasic said.

“I’m looking forward to playing in front of the crowd. The crowd is loud, and they get you hyped.” — Kevin Panzer, senior forward

Missing the holidays and the break with family was a struggle for some, but sophomore guard Jalen Rhea said the experience of working out and playing together over Christmas made the team a tighter unit.

“The only people that you see are each other for three weeks, so I think it’s good for bonding, and when we didn’t have anything to do we would just go to the upperclassmen’s house, chill with them,” Rhea said. “I think it’s good for bonding in general just to be around these guys, we are already around them a lot, but just them.”

For Rhea, Vasic, Paquin, Panzer and the rest of the Eagles, the upcoming conference games will test their abilities, but the team hopes to follow the success of last year’s squad and advance into the national tournament in March.

If all goes well, they just might have to celebrate with another team dinner at the Cheesecake Factory.

Section 202 host Gabrielle and friends go over some sports that aren’t in the sports media spotlight often, and review some sports based on their difficulty to play. 

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