Fourth-year coach Jon Coffman has to be nervous when he scans the Fort Wayne men's basketball roster entering the 2017-18 season. After all, of the 12 eligible student-athletes that he can utilize this coming season, half of them have never played a minute of college basketball and two more played sparingly last season.
Coffman has to be nervous, right? Not so much.
“I loved our summer development,” Coffman told The News-Sentinel recently. “I loved the focus of getting in the gym on your own.”
After spending seven seasons working in the Gates Sports Center as either an assistant or now, as the head coach, Coffman and his coaching staff have instilled a culture within the Mastodon program where the veterans know how to act – and work – on a daily basis, and the younger players know enough to follow that positive example. So despite having limited (to a degree) experience returning this season, after watching his players conduct themselves over the past months, Coffman is at some ease as the start of the season (Sept. 29) nears.
“We've had this consistency over the last six, seven years,” Coffman explained. “With this group, I felt like there was a real competitiveness in the gym this summer.”
That “competitiveness” was measured in the fact that “seven or eight guys” got up over 40,000 shots throughout this off-season, so it was the right type of competition.
“There was a pulling of others,” Coffman said.
That philosophy of 'boosting others to help all' is where the Mastodon players have learned to excel over the past off-seasons. Coffman and his assistants are limited in their allotted time to work with the athletes; so much of the coaching that goes on in the off-season is peer-to-peer.
“I've felt,” Coffman said, “at times in my coaching career, too much leadership has come from me. (This summer) I felt like it was coming from within.”
The development that took place was spread across the board from incoming freshmen to fifth-year seniors and it was measurable – not just in shots put up – but strength gained (redshirt freshman forward Dylan Carl) and weight lost (incoming freshman center Cameron Benford).
Carl has followed the model set by Mastodon redshirt junior forward John Konchar, who maximized his year off by working diligently in the weight room, and the 6-foot-11 youngster has gained over 25 pounds (in a positive sense) since high school.
Benford went the opposite way.
“Cameron came in a little bit heavy,” Coffman said. “His body (at 6-foot-8) can carry that weight, but we thinned him down and now we're building (his strength) back up. He had a great summer.”
Not only was there a blue-collar mentality that permeated the Fort Wayne program over the past few months, Coffman said the cohesiveness that he and his staff have emphasized throughout his tenure was as strong as it ever has been.
“A lot of having success on the floor,” Coffman said, “occurs because, one, you have to have the right players. You have to have the talent to be able to perform on the floor, but then the other part is how you work as an organization. There has to be synergy with how you operate. You limit distractions that take you away from getting better on the floor every day.
“I've just felt really, really good about this group. They have been a group that really enjoyed getting better. You could sense that they were having fun in the gym every day and putting their hard hat on.”
Fort Wayne is eligible to begin practice later this month, while the first scheduled game is at former Summit League rival (now competing in the Horizon League) Oakland on Nov. 10.
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