As tipoff for the 2023-2024 LMU men’s basketball season grows closer, there are a few things Lions fans should be looking for.
On Oct.12, the All-WCC Preseason Team and Preseason Coaches Poll was announced. Fifth-year forward Keli Leaupepe was selected to the All-WCC Preseason Team for the first time in his career.
The Lions are entering this season with high expectations after one of their most successful seasons in recent memory. Seven of the 14 players on the roster are entering their first season on the bluff. Because of this, a big focus during the off season was to get to build chemistry both on and off the court in order to establish the team’s identity.
During the off season, the team has been putting in countless hours that players are confident will lead to an even better season than the last.
“We’ve had a lot of new guys, so definitely just working on … our core stuff in order to get us used to the system and with there being like seven new guys just to get everybody acclimated with everything,” says senior forward Michael Graham in his second season with the Lions, “That was the main purpose of the summer and the beginning of the off-season.”
A big part of the Lions success last season was their wins over nationally ranked teams Gonzaga and St. Mary’s. Those victories, especially the win against Gonzaga, put the Lion’s on the map across the NCAA. These underdog victories instilled a belief that this team could beat anyone.
“Both Gonzaga games — honestly, those are gonna be crazy,” says sophomore guard first year player for the Lions Kevin Carney, when asked what games he is most looking forward to, “also the Cayman Islands, cause that’s just a cool experience.”
Graham, on the other hand, is thinking about their upcoming games a little differently.
“I’m just looking forward to playing,” he says, “I have the same approach to every game so I can’t really say I have a specific game circled, because I just want to play.”
The Lions made some significant improvements during the off season.
“I would say for sure our connection as a team, I would even say the mental aspect,” says first-year player for LMU center Lars Thiemann who previously played at Cal Berkeley, “And then in general our offense, our defense — I would say we’ve gotten better in every aspect … pick and roll defense we worked on quite a lot the last couple weeks.”
According to Carney, the team’s depth and speed are much improved this year, and Thiemann agrees, saying the team will “play fast, play as hard as we can because we have guys on the bench who are just as good as the guys who are out on the court.”
The Lions worked hard during the off-season building camaraderie, practicing, and training up their skills and conditioning — but ultimately the only thing that matters is the score at the end of each game. And the team’s goal is not just to win, but to make their first appearance in the Big Dance since their last appearance in 1990.
They feel ready to work to take it all the way to the end. “Our goal is definitely to make the NCAA Tournament, and to go forward… not just make it there,” said Graham “but obviously we just need to keep stacking good days together because it’s not an overnight thing, and just take everything day by day.”