The Ottawa University men’s basketball team walked off the floor in mid-March celebrating a NAIA Division II National Tournament win.
That was the final game of the 2019-20 season where the Braves carved up a top-5 national ranking, a program-best 28 wins, a KCAC title and first national tourney appearance in a decade.
The returning players have had six months to stew over the situation and get ready for the 2020-21 season.
This will be a season of unfinished business for the Braves. It will be a season where Ottawa will be the hunted instead of the hunter.
This will be the first season in which all NAIA basketball teams will be in one division. Ottawa, ranked 14th in the NAIA preseason poll, still has things to prove.
"Our guys are not complacent winning one ring," Ottawa sixth-year coach Aaron Siebenthall said. "They want to try and go get another."
The Braves are not rebuilding but rather reloading for another championship run. Ottawa returns five players and three starters from last year’s team, plus the Braves added talented transfers and freshmen to fill out the roster.
"We feel like we have a good group coming back as well as some good newcomers to add to that," Siebenthall said. "We have five returners that played a lot. We played a lot of different guys in every game. Each one of those guys led us in scoring (in a game) at some point."
The Braves come into the season knowing what it takes to win a KCAC championship.
"We can compete for another title," Siebenthall said. "We are not going to be as deep in the post spot. We have a good group of freshmen (posts). If one of those can emerge, I like our chances."
Ottawa was selected second by the coaches and media in the KCAC preseason polls conducted this week at the KCAC Media Day. Oklahoma Wesleyan was first in both polls.
Siebenthall said the team that can maneuver the best through this pandemic season has the best chance of winning the conference title.
"The biggest thing is whichever team can be mentally tough this year will be the team that can come through this (the best)," he said. "There is going to be postponements and all kind of changes. You have to be worried about you and not necessarily the next opponent is going to be because it might not be your next opponent. You might get two games postponed and you are onto your third team. That is something we are preaching to our guys."
Building a foundation
First-year Ottawa women’s basketball coach Tarniesha Scott wants to build a winning culture. It starts with her first team.
"I come into this program and I am trying to start a new legacy, build a new culture," Scott said. "My plan for this program is to build a culture where we establish competitiveness. That is something I have talked about a lot with our players, especially during COVID times. We have to be resilient. We have to figure a lot of things out."
Scott will have a team built around six returners and a plethora of transfers. Scott will have 10 new players with six of those being transfers.
"It is not always you walk into a program where three of your six returners are former starters," she said. "That is a huge benefit for us. The six junior college transfers will be very impactful this year. Those transfers I will definitely lean on."
Scott said the goal is to have players that buy into the program and are committed on and off the floor.
The Braves women’s team was selected 10th and 11th in the preseason polls.
Both teams open the season Oct. 26 at home against Barclay College.