NORFOLK — Aaron Bacote takes the long view, which is both understandable and wise as Old Dominion winds down a historically dismal basketball season.
"I feel like I'm a glass half-full kind of guy," the Monarchs' freshman wing from Bethel High said recently. "I have three more years of basketball and a lot to look forward to. The challenge is to get this program back to where it was, to the top of the conference and make some noise nationally."
"I think this year has been really valuable. Experience is the best teacher. You've got to learn how to fight through things. The fact that we've gone through this at such a young age, I think will help us in the future."
Bacote is part of the Monarchs' silver lining, the six-man freshman class that has absorbed every bump, bruise, loss and lesson and deposited them into the motivation bin.
"I think it's an outstanding class and they've got a great future," interim head coach Jim Corrigan said as the Monarchs (4-24, 2-14
It's a deep and varied group — "sort of a team within a team," fellow freshman Stuart McEwen said — that's become inseparable, on and off the court.
"If one of us has a bad day, there's always somebody there to pick each other up," freshman guard Keenan Palmore said. "We're all going through a lot of the same things. We all have each others' backs."
One would be hard-pressed to assemble a more complete unit. There's a point guard (Palmore), three versatile guards/wings, all with slightly different strengths (Bacote, Deion Clark, Ambrose Mosley), a power forward with smarts and perimeter skills (McEwen) and a true post player (Ekene Anachebe).
For good measure, there's even a hard-working, local walk-on who's been embraced by his teammates — Martin Shaw from Kecoughtan.
"Even though it's a big group and a lot of personalities," Shaw said, "all those personalities complement each other. Most of us are pretty laid-back and calm and relaxed away from the court."
Palmore, Bacote, Clark and Mosley share an apartment, while Anachebe, McEwen, Anton Larsen and Dimitri Batten share nearby living quarters, and Anachebe regularly hangs with the first four. The freshmen often work out, eat and socialize together, and several of them are in the same classes.
Palmore and Bacote were constants in the lineup all season, as was Clark before a knee injury sidelined him in mid-January. Palmore averages 8 points per game and has a team-high 84 assists, as well as being a sneaky-effective rebounder. Bacote averages 7.8 points per game, and his 29 3-pointers are second to Batten's 45. Clark averaged 5.6 points per game and probably was the best perimeter defender of the three before he was shelved.
McEwen, a 6-9, 200-pound forward from Australia, played limited minutes this season. He joined the team the second semester of last season after spending the fall at a Connecticut prep school, but is still a freshman, in terms of eligibility.
Anachebe, the 6-foot-10, 280-pound man-child, sat out this season as a redshirt. Mosley sat out this season, as well, following an eligibility dispute with the
"It's been frustrating because my situation is different from everybody else's," said Mosley, who then cribbed the Nietzsche line: "Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger."
That could be the Monarchs' team motto. In their final season in the Colonial Athletic Association, they plummeted from one of the league's marquee programs and a model of consistency to a team that played hard but routinely came up short. They endured injury and illness, a record losing streak, the abrupt dismissal of head coach
"It's been one of the worst seasons in our lives, probably one of the worst times in our lives," McEwen said. "But I think we can use this moving forward."
ODU's nosedive is a product of defections, departures and recent recruiting mis-steps that collapsed the transition to which the program had become accustomed and put returning players in positions to which they were ill-suited. That, in turn, prompted the Monarchs to rely on freshmen to a greater extent than is ideal.
"Were the situation different, we might have redshirted another guy, had we been able to," Corrigan said. "It's a lot easier for a single freshman to play with a group of experienced guys, like
By all accounts, the freshmen haven't lost heart. They come to work every day, limited only by their age and experience level.
"They want to be good, and that's a big key," Corrigan said. "It's something you look for when you're recruiting kids. They'll take coaching. They'll work hard. They'll put in extra time on their own."
All of the freshmen are thoughtful and well-spoken. McEwen and Anachebe are the most outgoing. McEwen is the stereotypical affable Aussie whose travels have made him a bit more worldly than the others.
Anachebe is a social animal who McEwen described as, "a little kid at heart." Bacote shook his head and smiled as he summed up Anachebe as "unique."
When Anachebe recited his present size, he was quick to add, "but I'm very mobile." Mobile, yes, though his game needs refinement.
"I would have liked to play," he said, "but we all have to make sacrifices for the good of the team. I'm taking the year to learn better post skills, learn the offense, learn the system. I'll be much better equipped to contribute next season."
That's a common refrain among the freshmen, whether they played significant minutes or not.
Palmore said he needs to become a better leader, in order to involve his teammates, and to become a better shooter. Bacote wants to get stronger, in order to be more consistent and to keep his legs and form late in the season.
McEwen must add weight and strength — no small feat, to hear him tell it. "My father and my uncles all have the same body type," he said. "We're all tall and thin and when they hit 40, that's when they put on weight — exactly when you don't want to."
Mosley welcomes the opportunity to practice, play and be a full uniformed member with his compadres.
"At first, I looked at my situation negatively," he said. "As a kid, you come to school to play basketball and I haven't had the chance yet. But I've realized that I can use the time to get stronger and work on my academics, so that when I'm a senior I'll be in much better shape."
Shaw played only a few minutes this season and hopes to remain along for the ride. He had modest numbers at Kecoughtan, serving as a backup and practice partner to former all-district player Josh Fortune, who's now at
"My role in practice is to push them on defense and pressure them," Shaw said. "On offense, I try to go at them and make them better defenders. You want to get your teammates better. That's the definition of a teammate: someone who makes their teammates better, regardless of their own situation."
All of the Monarchs, freshmen as well as upperclassmen, have tried to heed Corrigan's advice when the coaching change was made several weeks ago. Look ahead, he told them, since you cannot control the past. They eagerly await the offseason, armed with a year's knowledge and experience.
"I'm thankful for the situation I'm in," Bacote said. "God makes no mistakes. He put us all in this situation for a reason. Of course, we'd like to have more wins and be more successful. Nobody goes out there with the idea of losing, but we're in this situation for a reason and I believe we're going to be better for it."
WHO: Drexel (11-17, 7-9 CAA) at Old Dominion (4-24, 2-14).
WHEN: 7 p.m.