Fifteen student-athletes, one head coach, three assistant coaches, one director of operations, one video coordinator, one strength and conditioning coach, one athletic trainer and eight student managers are what create Western Carolina University’s men’s basketball team.
Mark Prosser is in his second season as WCU’s head coach. “At the beginning of the year, you look back at our Georgia game, and I don’t know that we had the same belief system we do now,” head coach Mark Prosser said. The belief system Prosser is speaking of, is this belief of winning every game. He has implemented that belief since his arrival in 2018. “Coach Prosser has done a really good job of building a championship culture here. Obviously, we haven’t won one yet, but that’s what we’re working for,” said sophomore guard/forward Doug Elks.
Why does an entire team put in all of this work before knowing the outcome of a season? “I think the simple answer is what the potential of that outcome could be,” senior forward Onno Steger said. A common theme with these student-athletes is the optimism they all carry. No matter if they win or lose a game, they remain optimistic and hopeful for the next win.
The team heads into the Southern Conference tournament with an 18-11 record and will be the fifth-seed, playing against fourth-seeded Mercer at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, March 7. In comparison, the Catamounts were 7-25 a year ago and lost in the first round as the eighth seed.
However, despite the optimism these athletes have, they’re still students first. The pressure and stress of being on and off the court play a big factor in their lives. The players go from having classes, to rushing to lift weights, film study, study hall, shootaround, or practice. “Being a student-athlete is pretty amazing once you get it all under control,” Steger said.
For road games that are five hours away, sometimes farther, the team typically leaves campus the night before, stopping at a restaurant on the way, checking in and out of hotels, sleeping on a bus after a game, and sometimes pulling back into campus at 2 a.m. Most of the players have class at 8 a.m. and are expected to be there – no excuses. “We have to have time management and take care of business on and off the court because off the court is just as important as it is on the court. It does translate over,” Steger said.
Taking care of business is precisely what the team is going to strive to do against Mercer, something they failed to do in their last meeting. “That first game we have (in the tournament) is going to be a ton of adrenaline and a ton of emotion. You know this could be your last game for the season. It makes you play that much harder and for each other,” junior guard Matt Halvorsen said.
As the Catamounts' incredible season continues, their motto, 'It's Coming,' no longer applies. It's here.