Senior Ethan O’Day has always enjoyed seeing his teammates succeed, whether it be in high school, AAU or prep school.
The 6’9″ forward played with stars Andre Drummond and Kris Dunn on his AAU team, the Connecticut Basketball Club, so as he said he has been used to not being the main focus of a team.
“I feel like I’ve always been on teams where there’s been a lot of talent,” O’Day said. “I wasn’t necessarily the main focus, but I’d always want to get other guys involved.”
In his first two seasons, it worked perfectly as the freshman played alongside a veteran group, who won the America East regular season title in his sophomore year. However, last season the Catamounts relied on O’Day’s interior presence to help carry them through conference play. With the departure of Zach McRoberts, head coach John Becker knows that they will be increasing their reliance on the senior who showed his ability to become a go-to player last season.
“I had to make that transition last year, from being the younger guy with the seniors and now becoming a leader and the older guy in a whole group of six new freshmen, that was definitely a challenge,” O’Day said. “Those six freshmen just had an unbelievable year last year, picking things up and just being able to play right away, so they’ve made it easy in that sense.”
O’Day averaged 12.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg and 2.1 blocks per game last season, all career-highs. Becker said he noticed the change from how he evolved from a role player in years past to what he did last season.
“I thought down the stretch last year, once we got into league play he was really dependable,” Becker said. “He had great games throughout conference play and so he really became a go to guy.”
Becker said he noticed how much more vocal the senior has been from the offseason to now. O’Day said over the course of last season he was helped by Darren Payen, the Catamounts transfer from Hofstra who is eligible this season, who pushed him in practice.
“He would be fresher on the days that I’d be coming back from a game, so he’d be coming right at me and that’s exactly what I needed,” O’Day said. “I think we both just done a great job of pushing each other, whether it’s in the weight room or on the court.”
Now the focus for opponents will be squarely on the senior O’Day, who was named to the All-Conference team in the preseason. The Catamounts lack of proven depth in the front court will force Becker to rely on O’Day heavily.
“I definitely need to be more aggressive and demand the ball at times,” O’Day said. “We’re still a very talented team, but I got to find that medium of being aggressive, but not forcing it.”
That depth could be bolstered by how much O’Day can help Payen, who sat out last season, as well as how much the senior can mentor sophomore Drew Urquhart to become a threat.
“I made it very clear to him that with only me him and [Darren Payen], as the three returning bigs, you could say that there’s going to be a lot of opportunity to play right away,” O’Day said. “There’s no room for any of the mistakes or mental lapses that he was making last year as a freshman. I think he’s really come a long way too.”
Most of all, the 6’9″ senior wants to embrace chasing that elusive NCAA tournament bid that he and his group have yet to grasp.
“You understand, after playing for three years, how hard it is,” O’Day said. “Nothing really matters until tournament time, you just got to lock in and look game by game.”
“I’ve kind of learned that you just got to look at who’s in front of you, just really chasing that championship title and wanting to make it to the tournament and make some noise. That’s what drives me and just trying to embrace this last year, win as many games as possible and have fun doing it with these guys.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2015-16 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.