SHIPPENSBURG — For Shippensburg University men’s basketball in 2022-23, what has already proven to be a strong supporting cast will now have an opportunity to step into the spotlight.
Gone is leading scorer and First Team All-PSAC performer Jake Biss, but the Raiders’ four other starters all return from a squad that finished 21-9 and reached the PSAC Tournament semifinals during a 2021-22 campaign that was riddled with injury.
The returning starters include redshirt-senior guard/forward Rashon Johnson (Philadelphia/Simon Gratz (Highland C.C.)), senior forward Carlos Carter (Indiana/Indiana), graduate forward Dom Sleva (McKees Rocks/Montour), and graduate forward Luke Nedrow (Pittsburgh/Central Catholic (Marist)). Combined, the foursome averaged 46.6 points per contest.
Johnson, the team’s top returning scorer, averaged 15.8 points and 7.4 rebounds splitting time as sixth man and starter. Carter, the team’s Swiss army knife, contributed 12.5 points and 5.0 boards. Sleva averaged nearly a double-double at 10.4 points and 9.1 rebounds per contest. Nedrow posted 7.9 points and 5.9 boards per game.
These four players are prepared to shoulder the burden of achieving what would be the program’s seventh straight season of 20-plus victories, and the postseason glory they crave.
“We are relying on them tremendously,” Shippensburg men’s basketball head coach Chris Fite said. “They have bided their time a little bit and they have all played important roles on our team. Now is kind of their time to shine. It’s their team in a sense. How those four go will determine where we go as a team.”
“We know what it takes to win and to compete at this level,” noted Sleva. “We know that we are going to have a lot of the load on us, we just have to go out there and be who we are and compete.”
Johnson, Carter, Sleva and Nedrow are being relied upon so heavily because they can handle it, but also because the Raiders otherwise have very little experience returning.
The biggest question mark is at point guard. According to Coach Fite, there are currently four candidates still battling out for the starting point guard spot. That includes last year’s backup, redshirt sophomore Andrew Recchia (Mars/Mars Area)
“We’re deep at point guard, I have confidence in every one of them,” Fite said. “We also are experimenting in not having a specific guy come back and get it in their hands, allowing whoever gets it to bring it up the court and roll right into some of the things that we are running. Time will tell.”
He continued, “We’ve been spoiled a little bit with Jake, Clay [Conner] and Abe [Massaley]. We’ve had great point guards here, and there is no saying that we don’t have one of those on our roster this year. The nice part about a team sport is that you’ve got five guys out there that you feel if each one carries their weight and is willingly to take on some level of responsibility, then we should be fine.”
“Recchia was the backup point guard for us [last year], and had to guard Jake Biss everyday in practice,” Carter mentioned. “That had to sharpen him up. He also knows what coach wants, since he has been here for so long, and he can also take the other guys under his wing.”
For Fite, the key to success for this year’s group is whether they can live up to the program’s lofty standards on the defensive end of the floor. Thus far, that remains to be seen.
“I feel like [defense] has been one of our calling cards over the years,” he said. “That has been one of the challenges with this group, how good can we be on that end. We do have some length and some size, but with that length maybe you give up something in other areas, whether it is foot speed or whatever. We are trying to find a way to find that balance with this group and make it work. If we can’t find a way to be really good on that end of the court, we are just going to be average.”
Carter said, “Coach Fite always hangs his hat on playing defense. We all know that defense leads to offense. That’s our game plan. It we can stop them, we are definitely going to win.”
If it all comes together the way the program hopes, the Raiders will be a good mix of veterans and young players that can match, if not outperform, last year’s performance.
The veterans, meanwhile, believe they can carry Shippensburg to the very top in March.
“The older guys right now are playing with a chip on our shoulder,” Carter said. “We’ve got a lot of experience, and we’ve been coaching up the younger guys, just putting them under our wings. I feel like the dynamic is there.”
Sleva said, “We have a lot of starters coming back. I’ve been here for a long time. We know what we need to do, all the little details, and we have some young guys that can help us. We are excited to compete this weekend and hopefully get two wins.”
Shippensburg starts its season this weekend at the PSAC vs. CIAA Conference Challenge at Virginia State University in Richmond. Action begins Friday when the Raiders take on Virginia Union at 6 p.m.