Davis Domescik, Bulldog Blitz
As fall soon approaches on Samford’s campus, anticipation for the return of Samford men’s basketball amongst Bucky Ball’s rabid fanbase is growing. After a successful exhibition trip to the Dominican Republic, the Bulldogs seem to have plenty of momentum going forward. However, the players themselves may be more excited than the Samford fans.
Sophomore guard Marcellus Vail did not hold back on his excitement level and expectations for the team: “I’m super excited, and I can’t wait to get back out there with my guys and compete for championships. That’s why we are all here.”
The excitement is warranted for a team that reached historic heights last season, as the team posted 20 wins for only the third time in program history, and head coach Bucky McMillan won SoCon Coach of the Year.
However, Vail and the rest of the Bulldogs aren’t letting the excitement dictate their routine.
“Honestly, the way we manage the hype is by putting in more work because we want to win that bad, not only for ourselves but for our fans too. When you have a bunch of winners on a team that want to compete as hard as we do everyday, you know that we have something really special.”
A top-15 player in the state of Kentucky out of high school, Vail has not yet made as big of an impact as other team stars like Ques Glover and Jermaine Marshall. In two seasons with the Bulldogs, Vail has averaged 1.3 points per game through 31 games played. However, Vail has focused a lot on his game this offseason.
“I’ve just been getting in the gym putting up a lot of shots, along with skill work, and trying to improve day after day. I want to be the guy that always gives it his all doing everything he does.
While the stars of the team will get plenty of attention, Vail made sure to stress the importance of Samford’s depth on the bench.
“I think the depth is going to be super effective, especially the way we play because we like to get up and down really fast. We will have a lot of fresh bodies ready to go and play super fast. A lot of teams aren’t as deep as us either so I feel like we will be able to wear teams down throughout the game.”
This depth could come in handy for the Bulldogs down the stretch, as Samford is no stranger to the injury bug. A.J. Staton-McCray and Logan Dye, two high-impact players for the Bulldogs, missed time with injuries, and point guard Ques Glover was knocked out of the SoCon Semifinal against Furman with an injury. This game is a sore subject for Vail, as it was a season-ending loss for the Bulldogs.
“We use that game as motivation because we don’t want it to happen again. We all want to go to the NCAA Tournament and win games there too and I think we all learned from that loss and we don’t want to feel that again.”
However, Samford and Coach McMillan wasted no time reloading for the upcoming season after the loss to Furman. McMillan brought in Bubba Parham, a sharp-shooting guard from Georgia Tech, Nathan Johnson, a do-it-all forward from UMBC, and Achor Achor, a 6-foot-9 Australian from Chipola College. Bucky is no stranger to the transfer portal, as Ques Glover, Jermaine Marshall, and Cooper Kaifes all came from different schools last year to help the Bulldogs have a historic season. Vail thinks that Samford’s new transfers will also have that same impact.
“I think all of our new guys will have an instant impact. They have already had a huge impact this preseason during practice because of how hard they all play and the leadership they have is making us all better.”
Coach Bucky McMillan has proven to be someone that both players and fans gravitate towards. Vail and his teammates have noticed his presence in the locker room.
“Coach Bucky has a huge effect on the locker room with how much intensity he brings to the floor everyday. We all really appreciate how much he wants all of us to be successful as a university, program, and team.”
The fans are noticing this swagger and intensity, and are bringing it to games as well. A resurgence in fan attendance last season for men’s basketball saw the Bulldogs post an impressive 13-2 record at home. Vail stressed the importance of the fans consistently showing up to games.
“The fans are a huge part of our success. We get a lot of love from the fans not only at our games but on social media and walking around Birmingham as well. They play a huge part in our success as well because of the energy that they bring to the games.”
However, Samford’s play on the road and at neutral sites is an area of improvement for the upcoming season, as the Bulldogs finished 7-9 in away and neutral games. Earlier this year, Samford traveled to the Dominican Republic for scrimmage games against Dominican club teams, which could help the Bulldogs down the road. Vail talked about the Bulldogs’ nonconference schedule this year and how he thinks Samford can improve away from home this season.
“I think our nonconference schedule will prepare us for conference play because we are playing some really good teams on the road. Playing in those environments will really get us ready for playing on the road in conference. But don’t forget everyone in the conference has to come deal with us at our place too and deal with our fans!”
Overall, the Bulldogs have lofty goals for the year after a historic season. With most of last year’s team returning, promising new transfers, and players like Vail taking steps to improve their play, fans and players alike are starting to wonder if a March Madness bid is in Samford’s future.