By Ben Dickison, Sports Editor
Last Friday night, as leaves left branches for the ground and temperatures dipped into the forties, a new season dawned in Norwood: 2023-2024 Xavier Musketeers basketball. The men’s and women’s teams were hailed by over 3,000 Musketeer faithful Cintas Center for the 2023 Musketeer Tip-Off presented by Heartland Bank, known previously as Musketeer Madness.
“We know this event is taking place at a different time than many of us are used to,” said Sedler Family Head Men’s Basketball Coach Sean Miller. “There’s a reason for that… we’re playing two scrimmages this year.”
It appears the event was pushed to take place a week before its previously annual slot on the Friday night of Xavier’s Family Weekend to accommodate for an extra closed-to-the-public contest to help the overhauled men’s roster more adequately prepare for an ominous schedule.
The Musketeers are slated for battles against five of the top 10 teams and up to eight of the top 25 teams in this season’s Associated Press poll, which was released last Monday.
The event commenced with introductions of the women in silver and navy, newly under the guidance of former Iona coach Billie Chambers. Each member of the women’s roster, which contains eight new faces, was met with rousing applause as they ventured onto Kohlepp Family Court via a stage connecting the hardwood to the locker room. Chambers and her staff made their entrance with a coordinated dance, followed by an address to the crowd. Chambers emphasized the program’s commitment to rebuilding as “quickly and as sustainably as possible.”
Graduate forward Loren Christie, redshirt freshman guard Azinique Mayo, graduate guard Taylor Smith, and junior guard Kaysia Wooscompeted in a three point shootout. Mayo, won the contest, scorching the net 13 times from beyond the arc.
Preceded by a performance from the Xavier Dance Team, the men’s team conducted player introductions in a congruent manner to the women’s team. European newcomers Lazar Djokovic, Saša Ciana, and Gytis Nemeikša donned their native flags: Serbia, Slovenia and Lithuania, respectively. Graduate transfer and expected starter Quincy Olivari lightened the mood by using team photographer Isaac Fiely’s camera and taking photos and videos of the tunnel formed by cheerleaders and dancers.
Prior to tipping off an intrasquad scrimmage, Coach Miller assigned one side of Cintas Center to root for the blue side and the opposite side to be allegiant to the team in white.
Xavier’s two returners, sophomore guards Kam Craft and Desmond Claude impressed in the 2023-24 team’s premiere; Craft connected on half of his eight attempts from beyond-the-arc and poured in 17 points to lead all scorers, besting Claude, who went without a blemish in four free throw attempts, by only one bucket.
Freshman small forward Dailyn Swain displayed a Swiss Army Knife skillset, providing a highlight reel tomahawk slam in the second of two 16-minute halves, and displaying a high level of defensive versatility.
Olivari and Western Kentucky transfer guard Dayvion McKnight, who is embarking on his senior season, displayed ability to dice up a defense using McKnight’s quick first step to penetrate the lane, and Olivari’s ability to stretch a defense with his outside shooting prowess.
Djokovic exhibited laser focus in the second half, pouring in all 13 of his points after the break. Nemeikša contributed 11 points for Xavier Blue.
Fellow post presence and newcomer Kachi Nzeh, who hails from Upper Darby, Penn., caught a game high nine rebounds. Charlotte native and freshman floor general Trey Green, played string music throughout the first half, collecting a team-high 16 points and game-high nine assists, generating palpable buzz as he led Xavier Blue to a 74-60 victory in the nightcap, that included a 21-7 run to end the first half.