Getting to know you, first task

Cowboys work on chemistry

{{tncms-inline alignment="left" content="<p><span>9 p.m. Wednesday</span></p>" id="b114c738-5fc1-4001-862c-538324c49e22" style-type="fact" title="McNeese at St. Mary’s" type="relcontent"}}

Almost everything about the McNeese State men’s basketball program is new this season.

The coaching staff is new. There are 10 new players. Even the Health and Human Performance Education Complex — the $42 million future home to men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball — still has the new smell to it, as well as the dust from being unfinished.

Cowboys’ head coach Heath Schroyer faces a tall task: get the chemistry right and make them competitive to fire up an apathetic fan base. The Cowboys have not finished the regular season with a winning record since the 2011-12 season. Since the 2001-02 season, McNeese has produced a winning record five times. They were 11-17 last season.

"Having clear expectations, defining roles, just understanding that it’s a process," Schroyer responded when asked how he’s going to get this team to gel quickly. "Not everything is going to be perfect right away. We’re not going to win every single game we play. But I really believe in this team. I like the makeup of our team because they really bought into our culture."

The culture Schroyer speaks of is one that he essentially had to build from the ground up after taking over for Dave Simmons, whose contract was not renewed after a 154-211 record in 12 seasons. When Schroyer was hired in March, he said that just about everything in the program needed changing. It didn’t matter if it was on the court or off.

Guard James Harvey, one of three seniors who have been at McNeese their entire career, said he feels like this season can be a fresh start.

"The last three years haven’t been as good as we had hoped," Harvey said. "We’re just looking forward to the season getting started and having a great season."

From a chemistry standpoint, players say that it’s already there. That could be difficult to achieve with a team that picked up four Division I and six junior college transfers in the offseason. But that does not seem to be the case.

One of those transfers — junior forward Will Robinson — said the chemistry is there off the court and hopes it will lead to on-court success.

"It’s probably the best team as far as being off the court, the type of brotherhood we got," Robinson said. "It’s crazy. We’re always together, we’re always laughing, joking. We talk about basketball a lot, outside of just being on the floor and in a basketball situation. It’s real good."

The team’s chemistry will be put to the test early as the Cowboys start the season with a West Coast road trip. McNeese opens the season Wednesday against St. Mary’s, which won 30 games last season. Two days later, the Cowboys head to Tempe, Arizona, to take on Arizona State of the Pac-12. Last season, the Sun Devils won 20 games and lost in the First Four of the NCAA Tournament.

It is a tough start to the schedule for a team that does not yet know each other, at least in a game setting. But they embrace the challenge.

"I’m excited," said Robinson, who transferred to McNeese from Gulf Coast State College in Panama City, Florida. "Two real good teams. We wouldn’t be who we are and not be led by our coach if we didn’t go try to fight and play real good and compete against some of the better teams. Even if nobody thinks that we can win or anything like that, none of that stuff matters. That’s why we’re here every day. We work hard for hours just so we can compete against what people would think is better competition. We just got to go into it like we know we can win and just play as hard as we can."

<span>9 p.m. Wednesday</span>

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