Zach Spiker spent seven years at Army, compiling a 102-112 overall record and two winning seasons. But it wasn’t always easy being at the military academy. Everyday he woke up and tried to figure a way to “crack the code.”
Now Spiker will have to try and crack the code again. This time it will be at Drexel University.
The Drexel Dragons head into the 2016-17 season without six of its players from last year. Three players (Tavon Allen, Kazembe Abif, and Chandler Fraser-Pauls) were lost to graduation, while two more (Terrell Allen and Rashann London) transferred, and another (Ahmad Fields) was forced to step away from basketball due to injuries, according to City of Basketball Love. They will be without three of their regular starters and 72% of their scoring from their 6-25 campaign last season.
But if you talk to the Drexel players or coaches, you would not expect that they had such a turbulent 2015-16 season and offseason. That stems from the revamped coaching staff, headed by Spiker, who brings the positive attitude they need.
“Building a culture in a program is the most important thing,” Spiker noted. “A lot of that culture was already in place by coach Flint.”
For Spiker this culture starts both on and off the court. In practice, it begins with the little things in drills like touching the line every time. Off the court, he wants to create a bond with the players.
“As a coaching staff, we work hard to make a connection with our players, get on the same page with what’s important, and hold them accountable,” says Spiker. “But also just as important is the fact that there is a group of players who hold themselves accountable. What we want to do is push our guys in a direction to take some collective ownership and hold each other accountable.”
Although Drexel will be without major contributors from last season, they will return starting forward Rodney Williams, who is one of two seniors (the other being fellow forward Mohamed Bah) on the team. Despite averaging four less minutes than he did the 2014-15 season, Williams’ points per game jumped from 8 to 10, proving himself to be a formidable post presence. The past season also featured three double-doubles and twelve double digit scoring outings. This year, however, they will need even more from him.
The same can be said for Sammy Mojica, who is their second highest returning player in scoring from last season at nearly 9 points per game. The 6-foot-3 guard has shown his ability to heat up and score, but has yet to do it consistently. Despite having fifteen double digit scoring games in the 2015-16 season, Mojica also had thirteen games where he scored 5 or less points. With their lack of scoring last season, and loss of so many key players, Mojica will need to become a consistent scoring threat.
Spiker, however, thinks that everyone needs to step up. Not just Mojica or Williams. In order for them to be at their best, they will need everyone to play bigger roles.
That also includes big men Mohamed Bah, Tyshawn Myles, and Austin Williams, who all struggled to find minutes over the past few seasons and will duke it out for playing time this year. Despite their inexperience, they are all presumably going to have to expand their roles with the loss of Abif.
Drexel will also have a host of newcomers. This includes former St. Joe’s Prep star Miles Overton, who transferred in from Wake Forest and will have two years of eligibility remaining. The son of former NBA player Doug Overton was a two time member of the All-State team in his high school career, while also being a McDonald’s All-American nominee.
In addition, Spiker will have multiple recruits that he can build around. The 6-foot-6 forward Sam Green, 1,000 point scorer Kurk Lee, and versatile double-double machine Jeremy Peck should all have the opportunity to seize minutes early on. Spiker will try to bring more recruits like them over the next couple years, and with the growth of Drexel, he thinks that the school will appeal to student-athletes.
“I think Drexel has a number of things that make it unique to any college in America with the co-op program and certainly the growth and direction,” said Spiker. “You don’t need to do much but walk around the campus with the construction and everything that’s taking place here to see that our campus is headed in the right direction. You share those experiences and you think about the academic reputation, the change on campus, the growth and the directions things are going, and the opportunity for real life work experiences. That’s just off the court. On the court, our coaching staff is looking for guys that are excited to be a part of our program.”
Drexel is only on the way up, but there’s a lot of work to do. With a lineup lacking in college game experience, the next season is still up in the air. Right now, it’s just about improving little by little with Spiker.
“If you’re not getting better,” he said,” you’re getting worse.”
Photo: Tommy Gilligan/USA TODAY Sports
-Drexel loses to Charleston in the quarterfinal of the CAA tournament