The Sacred Heart University men’s basketball team was selected to place second in the Northeast Conference (NEC) preseason poll, the highest they have been ranked since 2019-20. The Pioneers finished seventh in the NEC last season but are still getting forward-looking attention.
“If you want to be picked something, you want to be picked a favorite,” said junior forward Nico Galette. “I think they’re wrong by one place, but we are taking it with a grain of salt. We are going to come out and play as hard as we can every game.”
Galette is entering his junior season as a part of the 2022-23 preseason All-NEC team. He is a leader on the Pioneer squad with a scoring average of 12.4 points per game.
“From my freshman to my sophomore year, I made a big jump, so I’m really trying to make another big jump, and whatever everyone decides happens to me after that, I’ll take it,” said Galette.
After veteran players Aaron Clarke and Tyler Thomas transferred to different schools, this team has a new look with new leaders expected to dominate the NEC.
“It’s a next man up mentality,” said junior forward Bryce Johnson. “We are filling our own shoes to this team and adding our own little swag.”
Last season, Johnson had 210 total rebounds, ranking him seventh in the NEC. He also had a field goal percentage of 54.2%.
Tenth-year Head Coach Anthony Latina is hoping that the preseason poll rankings are wrong by one spot, the first spot.
“People are expecting us to be good and we are expecting us to be good,” said Latina. “With that comes a higher level of urgency, accountability and responsibility, and I want our guys to appreciate that.”
In the player’s mindset, they are using what they have learned in the past to create a new rhythm on the court. There is more depth on the roster with not only the offensive trio of veterans Galette, Johnson and Tanner Thomas, but now there is an addition to the defense with transfer guard Brendan McGuire.
“Hopefully with that comes our ability to deal with adversity a little bit better because we have been there before,” said Latina.
Even though there are 31 games to get through during the regular season, there is one goal in mind for the Pioneers, and that is making the NCAA tournament.
The ability to make this tournament is something that the squad is going to have to prepare for physically and mentally. Galette, Johnson and Thomas naturally have been preparing for it already.
“Those three guys are in the gym as much as any trio I’ve ever had in my 18 years here,” said Latina.
Latina emphasizes hard work and how the players need to show up day in and day out to be successful, and they are certainly picking up on that.
“Coach Latina is a great coach,” said Galette. “He is going to lead us to the promise land.”
Latina has experience making the NCAA tournament twice when he was an assistant coach at Central Connecticut State University but has never done so during his time at Sacred Heart.
“I have never said this before, but I will say it. I would be very disappointed for our players and for the Sacred Heart community if we don’t get to the NCAA tournament because I think they deserve it,” said Latina. “I think the school has been so supportive of us and has really elevated itself as a university to a certain level of excellence and I think it is time for our basketball program to mirror that.”
Sacred Heart Athletics contributed to this article.