Steele: ‘We have the toughness and togetherness’

Head coach Travis Steele and players speak at annual basketball media day

Newswire photo by Luke Feliciano | First-year men’s basketball head coach Travis Steele spoke at length about the team for the upcoming season. Steele assumes the helm of the program after serving as the associate head coach last season.

The Musketeers will enter the 2018-19 season as a new-look team from both a player and coaching perspective.

Xavier acquired three key graduate transfers in the form of Kyle Castlin, Zach Hankins and Ryan Welage.

The Musketeers also welcomed the additions of the same number of assistant coaches as graduate transfers — Jonas Hayes, Ben Johnson and ex-Xavier guard Dante Jackson.

However, one aspect of this team is the same. Travis Steele remains on the coaching staff, but this time around, he assumes a new role as the Musketeers’ head coach.

Steele will embark on his first season at the helm of the program after serving the last nine seasons as an assistant coach.

“(The team) has heard my voice a lot over the last nine years … there wasn’t a big adjustment — as much as I thought there would be,” Steele said about his transition to becoming the head coach.

Following a season in which the Musketeers emerged as the winner of the Big East Conference during the regular season, excitement from players is already brewing. This was evident with junior forward Tyrique Jones.

“I think we can do big things this year,” he said. “… My excitement is through the roof. I can’t wait to play someone (else).”

Jones figures to be a force on both ends of the floor and on the glass.

“He’s lost about 25 pounds,” Steele said about Jones’ work throughout the offseason.

“That’s going to allow him to play longer. He’s quicker (and) can guard on the perimeter…I have all the confidence in the world that Tyrique, if it’s a one-on-one matchup down there, he is going to score and get fouled. I think he can be an all-conference guy — there’s no question in my mind.”

Steele also discussed the outlook for offense as a whole.

“Offensively, we’ll look different than we have the last few years,” he explained “…I do think we can be very effective on the offensive end. We just have to play to our strengths and know who we are.”

One such strength is apparent through the production of junior point guard Quentin Goodin.

Last season, he cemented himself as a playmaker with the ability to create with the ball in his hands.

Last season, Goodin dished out 4.9 assists per game to go along with 8.7 points per game.
He is the Musketeers’ leading returning scorer from a season ago.

“I think you’ll see a different Quentin this year,” Steele said. “…He has to be the leading assist guy in the Big East this year. He’s going to score more than he ever has, and I know that just because of who we have on our team.

“He shoots it better than what people think (and) he’s worked really hard on jumpshot, but as any good point guard does, he has to always do what the game tells him to do.”
Steele noted some key insights about the expected on-court lineups this season.

“We want to develop our bench and play at least eight guys,” he said. “…We are going to try to keep the best players on the floor as much as possible.”

Additionally, Steele referenced how the rotation could see a mixing and matching of personnel.

“Certain games are going to call for certain different lineups,” Steele said. “We may play two bigs … Some games we may play with four guards. Some games we may play with five guards.

“We have to be able to adjust quickly. So offensively, we are trying to have that versatility to play all three different ways with different spacing on the floor.”

Defense was a staple for Xavier teams under former head coach Chris Mack, and Steele will undoubtedly continue to emphasize that facet of the game.

He remarked that Xavier will put pressure on teams through utilizing a press defense more frequently.

“We will press after free throws. We want to try to create turnovers to create offense off our defense,” Steele said.

“I think that’s really important for this group of guys.”

The Travis Steele era of Xavier basketball kicks off on Thursday with an exhibition matchup against Kentucky Wesleyan before the Musketeers host their season opener against IUPUI next Tuesday. at Cintas Center.

By: Luke Feliciano | Sports Editor