Men’s Basketball Season Preview: Clif Carroll ERA Set to Begin

Clif Carroll’s short tenure in Belton has not been easy.

In his first season at UMHB, he inherits a team that returns just four players from last season. The solid non-conference schedule put together in the spring was dismantled due to Covid-19 concerns. Not to mention, he and his family moved during Covid-19 and are still adjusting to life in Central Texas. But Carroll, an easy going guy from the Texas panhandle, is not one to complain. In fact, he could not be more excited to take on his first year leading the Crusader men’s basketball program.

“I love it, this place is awesome,” said Carroll of UMHB. “It’s got such rich tradition and success. Of course with the facilities, the Christian atmosphere, it’s such a special place to work, to recruit to, and hopefully we’ll have lots and lots of years of championships right here.”

Clif Carroll in the huddle at Sul Ross State Photo courtesy of cruathletics.com

The first of those championships could very well come in this upcoming season, as the Cru were picked to win the American Southwest Conference (ASC) West in the preseason poll compiled by league head coaches and sports information directors. That selection might look good on the team’s resume heading into the season, but Carroll made it clear that he does not want his team to get overconfident.

“It’s hard to really read into that too much,” said Carroll. “We only return four players from last year, and really only two had very small roles. So we’re not really returning anyone who played significant minutes last year. We have 15 new players and five of those are freshmen. So I reiterated to them yesterday that we’ve earned nothing. There’s not a proven person at UMHB in our locker room, myself included.”

One of the main question marks heading into year involved the non-conference schedule, typically a time for the team to face out of conference competition and develop that invaluable team chemistry prior to the always-crucial conference slate getting underway. This winter, UMHB’s non-conference schedule will look a little different, as the Cru take on five fellow ASC opponents, and two D1 teams in Texas State and Sam Houston State. In fact, UMHB will open the season on November 25 in an exhibition in San Marcos against Texas State.

“Playing D1s is cool,” said Carroll when asked about the thoughts of his team playing D1 opponents. “It’s an exhibition for us, it’s an actual game for them, it counts towards their record, so we’re going to go up there and we want to compete against the best and test ourselves. We want to give our guys a good experience. getting to play on a D1 stage is special. What we’ll find is that there’s not a huge difference between those schools and us. We’ll go out there, gain some confidence, play a little above our heads, get better and that’ll prepare us for ASC conference play.”

Darius Musa Photo courtesy fo cruathletics.com

Before the Cru even get into conference play though, the team will be forced to hit the road for eight straight games, not playing a home game game until January 7. It is something Carroll feels will challenge his squad and help them to grow closer as unit.

“When I was hired on, Zane Johnson, the assistant coach last year, put together almost an entire non-conference schedule,” said Carroll. “So we were kind of all set and ready to go, then Covid came and wiped everything out. It was in August when teams started saying we’re not playing in the fall. So we had to put together a makeshift schedule. I’m not neccesarily sure if its a bad thing. It’ll allow us to get on the road, take these kids out of Belton, put them on a bus, let them learn, let them grow, that’s when you really start coming together as a team. So I think it may turn into a positive that we get on the road early, and play some games away from here. But once we get here, in front of our fans, we’ll be ready to roll.”

This year’s team will certainly be an exciting one to watch, with a lot of young talent in the ranks, and several question marks as to who will step into starting roles. Guard Sam Moore led in nearly every scoring category last season, but decided to transfer to D2 Angelo State for his senior year.

One candidate to fill the gap is Sam Reaves, a transfer who followed Carroll to Belton from Sul Ross State. Reaves has had quite a journey back to the court, having suffered a Ischemic stroke in June of 2019, which put him in the hospital for four days, and resulted in months of therapy.

“Sam has been real special for us,” said Carroll. “He’s a good kid, has good size and I’d look for him to do some good things for us too.”

In addition, Aedan Welch and Darius Musa make up 50% of the small group of returnees, and are players who will serve as the foundation for this year’s team.

“I really like what those guys have brought to us, being that they’re seniors,” said Carroll of Musa and Welch. “Both of those guys have had to miss practice for multiple reasons and when we didn’t have those guys out there, we’ve struggled a little bit. Both of them have significant roles with us, and I think you’re going to see a better version of them this year.”

Aedan Welch Photo courtesy of cruathletics.com

Perhaps the most talented transfer UMHB picked up this offseason was Carson Hammond, a Belton native, familiar with the tradition of program. His brother, Braden, suited up for the Cru from 2016-2018.

“Carson is just a steady guy,” said Carroll. “He’s an ultra-competitor, he wants to win every rep. He’s going to be big for us. We’re expecting Carson to be a big-time player all year.”

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Regardless of who is on the floor, Carroll has a vision for his program at UMHB that will extend far beyond one player, or one game. No matter when, where, or who UMHB goes up against, Carroll’s principles that helped his teams at Sul Ross State win three ASC West titles in just five years, will be evident in the Cru.

“First and foremost, we’re going to be a team. We’re going to play team basketball. We will be a cohesive group out there. When you come watch us play, you’ll be able to walk off the court and say, ‘Man, those guys really play well together’. Number two, we want to play harder than everybody else. So we feel like if we play together and play harder than everybody else, it gives us the best chance to win.”

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