WICHITA—On Wednesday, the KCAC conference ran its annual basketball media day in Wichita. T.J. Eskildsen, who is entering his first year as head coach at McPherson College, stepped in at the podium headstrong as if he been there before. It's because he has been there before with almost a decade worth of knowledge in the conference, working under his mentor Tim Swartzendruber. Now Eskildsen is ready to pick up where Swartzendruber left off with hopes of taking the Bulldog men's basketball program to new heights.
Eskildsen has been Swartzendruber's right-hand man for nine years. In those nine years, he was in charge of recruiting, head of the scouting department and was the head coach for the junior varsity team. Eskildsen, a coach's son in his own right, studied the KCAC conference exclusively once Swartzendruber' took him under his wing. The Bulldogs went 10-19 (6-18 in KCAC) in Swartzendruber's last tenure with the Bulldogs before moving on to accept an Athletic Director position at Pratt Community College. Swartzendruber couldn't ask for a better replacement than his long-time assistant.
"I was thrilled to see Coach Eskildsen get the opportunity to lead the Bulldog men's basketball program," Swartzendruber said. "He was extremely loyal to me, and McPherson College while I was there. He is a tireless recruiter and will bring in not only great talent but quality young men. I believe his style and ability to make young men better will produce a great product at McPherson. Coach Eskildsen will represent McPherson College with class, and his players will make the community proud. I am anxious to watch the Bulldogs in action this year."
Both Eskildsen and Swartzendruber stay in contact with one another. With all the advice and knowledge Eskildsen gained, there was one piece of advice Swartzendruber gave him once he started working.
"He kind of told me 'just to be yourself,'" Eskildsen said. "You kind of have to do things the way you want to do it. Take the things that you like and do those things."
No days off
After the hiring in mid-April, Eskildsen was put right to work. Luckily, Eskildsen does have six returning Bulldogs who have been in the starting rotation. Leadership will be a key-component going into the 2019-20 season.
"There is always something different every day, just moving to that role,"Eskildsen said. "It helps to have some good returners as well this year, and guys who've been around as well. I think you're only as good as the leaders that you have on the team—within your players, but I think we have strong leadership this year. That's what I'm really excited about.
We talked to our guys a lot with the mindset of being an everyday-guy, being competitive at everything that you do. That is something we want to take that next step. We just got to be more tough-minded, and I'm hoping that senior leadership will really come through in terms of that, and winning those close games."
Eskildsen already began his recruiting trail but was highly involved in bringing JUCO and college transfers. The top priority was finding some shooters shooters. The Bulldogs was ranked last in the conference in three-point attempts. Eskildsen brought in guys like Kemryn Jenkins from Iowa Central Community College, Gage McCoy from Cowley County and Trenton Crow from Oklahoma Baptist University in which can improve on the Bulldogs' shooting game.
"Kamryn Jenkins is somebody you want to shoot the ball. We felt that was a need for us last year. We needed someone who can stretch the floor and create space," Eskildsen said. "I think he is one of those people. Trenton Crows is another one from Oklahoma Baptist who can stretch the floor. Those guys and Gage McCoy is somebody who was with us last year, but he is somebody who, honestly, shot the ball much better this year than he did last year when he redshirted and someone who we expect to have a huge year for us."
Eskildsen didn't make many changes in his system. He expects this year his Bulldogs will play fast and create pressure against their opponents.
"We tweaked some things a little bit defensively. We're trying to get up and pressure people a little bit more in the full-court defense. Offensively, we are looking to push the pace a little bit more when we want to shoot a lot more 3s than we have in the past," Eskildsen said. "I hope that works, that's kind of the trend in our league. It's kind of fast-paced, high scoring. We want to play at a high pace and play fast o the floor, and we just want to work really hard. I think our guys are enjoying it now, and they are competing, trying to get better every day."
KCAC polls revealed
The media and the KCAC head coaches marked down their voting polls on who could win the conference. The Media picked Oklahoma Wesleyan University to repeat as conference champions, while the coaches chose Southwestern College. Both did agree that McPherson will finish 11th. Bethany was voted in the middle of the pack.
On the women's side, both agreed that Sterling College would win the KCAC. The coaches voted that McPherson will finish eighth, while media had the Bulldogs at nine. Both agreed that the Swedes could finish in the top five in the conference.
First-place votes are parenthesis
Southwestern (5), 132
Oklahoma Wesleyan (3) 130
Kansas Wesleyan (3) 124
Ottawa (1), 104
Friends (1) 101
Saint Mary, 90
McPherson College, 29
Oklahoma Wesleyan (14), 311
Southwestern (9), 288
Kansas Wesleyan, 266
Friends (2), 250
Saint Mary, 158
McPherson College, 76
Sterling (7), 135
Tabor (3), 129
Bethany (2) 116
Kansas Wesleyan, 107
Avila (1), 101
Oklahoma Wesleyan, 83
McPherson College, 59
Saint Mary, 35
Sterling (16), 295
Tabor (8) 290
Kansas Wesleyan, 256
Oklahoma Wesleyan, 178
McPherson College, 129
Saint Mary, 76
Contact Peter Holland Jr. by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter@Petes_Picks_