Carleton Men’s Basketball has the makings of a MIAC powerhouse. It has a winning tradition, capturing twenty MIAC conference titles over the duration of the program’s history.
The team has had its fair share of on-court standouts, featuring six All-Americans, including 2018 grad Kevin Grow, who was named a finalist for the Josten’s Trophy, an award given annually to the best male and female student athletes in NCAA Division III basketball.
It has a coach who has called the shots for the maize and blue for 35 years, has been named MIAC coach of the year three times, has won over 400 games, and is likely only two years short of 500 wins.
They have two leaders, in senior Captains Henry Benson and Kent Hanson, the latter of which received a D3hoops.com All-Region nod for his junior campaign.
The Knights have the framework of a winner. The only missing component? The players themselves. Since the conclusion of the 2018-2019 season, two former Knights have left the team, and five players who were first years during the past academic year have transferred to other academic institutions, with only some continuing their basketball careers.
This is an unprecedented mass exodus for a team of the Knights’ size. In combination with the graduation of three seniors last spring, Quinn Johnson, Joh Farmer, and Noah Plewa, the seven player exit left Carleton with three remaining players: Hanson, Benson, and sophomore forward Alex Battist. Much like his fellow, and now former members of Carleton’s Men’s Basketball Class of 2022, Battist planned on stepping away from Knights Basketball. “I just wasn’t having fun last year,” Battist said. “I wasn’t enjoying it at all for the first time ever, and needed to stop because I felt worse playing than I did not playing.” Battist stepped away from the team early last season, competing in only two games before temporarily hanging up his Nikes. He felt that the overall atmosphere of the squad was an unmotivated one.
Considering that each member of the Class of 2022 felt compelled to either leave the team or transfer schools completely, there was perhaps some systematic fault in Carleton’s Men’s Basketball Program. Lack of playing time cannot be blamed, as 2022’ers Joe Thursby, Carlston McKenzie, and Zac Olmstead, all of whose minutes per game spanned into the double-digits (16.6, 17.7 and 15.0, respectively), transferred just the same as Grant Mengel and Charles Dinegar, who rarely received play time (4.0 and 3.9 minutes per game, respectively). One may presume that perhaps friction existed between the Class of 2022 and Head Coach Guy Kalland. Battist, however, reasons differently: “I don’t think it was a coach issue. If it was a coach issue I wouldn’t be playing this year, but I think my playing shows that it’s not. I just don’t think Carleton was a good fit for them.”
Senior Captain and 4-year Knight Henry Benson echoes Battist’s sentiments that Carleton has not been an excellent overall fit for the majority of the Class of 2022. “So many guys leaving the program was obviously pretty unprecedented, but wasn’t really as much of a shock as one might expect,” Benson said of the mass departure. “There definitely wasn’t one reason that caused everyone to part ways. I think everyone had their own reasons and ultimately made the best decision for themselves and their college experience. I don’t want to speak for anyone or get too far into the details, but I think, generally, it was a combination of the team not being the right fit for them, having different expectations, and for some there was just more important things in their life they wanted to give extra attention to.”
The massive hole in the roster on Men’s Basketball’s page will be filled, however, by eight new Carls, all of whom are eager to step onto the court. Newly recruited Knights seem as excited as ever to don the maize and blue on the hardwood. When asked why Carleton appealed to him, first-year guard Carson Sawatzke spoke highly of the program, despite his relatively limited experience: “I am able to get a more than quality education [at Carleton] while playing a sport that I have been playing my entire life. My teammates and coaches are fantastic as well, and that just makes the experience even more enjoyable.” Brad Lee, a fellow first-year guard, echoed Sawatzke’s sentiment, saying, “there are not many places who can offer a top tier education and also have such a strong basketball program like Carleton.”
It goes without saying that due to this season’s massive roster turnover, Coach Kalland, Hanson, Benson, and Battist will have their work cut out for them. They not only have to integrate three-fourths of their roster into collegiate basketball, but must also assist them in transitioning to life as a college student, and the academic rigors that come with attending one of the nation’s most prestigious liberal arts schools. Battist feels that each member of the Class of 2022 was faced with a different set of circumstances that propelled them to leave: “Each of the guys’ situations was unique. Carleton just wasn’t the right fit for any of them.”
Benson recognizes the challenge, but feels confident in the new crop of recruits, and expects their best effort. “Integrating so many new players into the program is going to take a tremendous amount of time and effort,” said Benson, “but I believe it’s going to be great for the team in the long run. Everyone on the team, including returners, are going to have a steep learning curve in getting accustomed to playing together and in the system. We’re doing what we can now to get everyone up to speed on our principles so that we’re not starting from square one on the first day of practice. In general, everyone is going to need to be accountable to give their full effort every day to learn, improve, and succeed in their role. We have a great opportunity to set the culture and determine the direction of the program for years to come. It’s going to take a lot of work, but I’m excited for the challenge, love our group of guys, and am looking forward to seeing how far we can go.”
Rejuvenated and excited about basketball again, Battist feels like he can make a positive difference in the class of 2023’s Carleton experience. “I don’t have as much experience as those two [Hanson and Benson],” said Battist, “but I definitely have experience for what the freshmen might go through, and could help them with that. We’ve just been trying to go through the basics and get them all on the same page. I think all the freshmen are good, they want to play and work hard, which is exciting.”
As to why he decided to return, Battist cites his love for the game as something that helped him overcome any of last year’s negativity. “I didn’t like it last year,” Alex answered when asked why he returned to the team, “but every time I worked out, especially this last summer, I just had to play basketball. I never disliked playing basketball, just playing on the team last year wasn’t fun. There’s no reason not to play this year, since we have a different team.” Only time will tell whether Battist and this new group of first-years will return the Knights to the winning ways of the past, or whether there is indeed some sort of unidentified deterrent lingering within Carleton Men’s Basketball.