Greenberg-less; Spires move on

It took almost a decade, but the University of Saint Mary men’s basketball team will be Greenberg-less.

For four years there was Jeb Greenberg and then, for the past four seasons, there was Grant Greenberg, who promptly became one of the most prolific scorers in NAIA history and the all-time leading scorer in Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference (KCAC) play and for all Kansas colleges over a career.

That’s all gone now.

Now the Spires must reconfigure their identity without one of Leavenworth High’s recent stalwarts donning a USM jersey and move into the future.

On Tuesday, the Spires opened the season with an 80-76 loss at a tough Morningside squad. This roster of approximately two dozen players has already laid a marker down – they are going to be a tough out.

Bryce Plein, Payton Meek, Brent Marsh, Kenneth Banks and Darrious Denson return as key contributors to a 22-10 and 14-8 in KCAC play squad that saw Grant Greenberg’s career end short of an NAIA trip, losing a shocking 81-79 home decision in the opening round of the conference playoffs to Ottawa.

According to head coach Troy Brown, the Spires could be more athletic and balanced than the previous year.

“Any time you lose your program’s best player and hardest worker there's going to be some sort of transition period where your team tries to figure itself out,” Brown said. “Some teams take longer than others  to do that. The two championship teams that came from this program never had a 28-point scorer so there are ways to be successful without a Grant Greenberg. Now those two championship teams in 2001 and 2013 were very talented and balanced scoring teams. The starting five for both those teams averaged between 10-15 points per game and had solid bench play. They never had a 28-point scorer but those players knew their roles and played together very well and that is exactly what this team needs to do to be successful.   

“Our returners need to step up and be more productive and create positive plays and our new guys need to figure out their roles and how to succeed in those roles.”

The players recognize that they now have to raise their games without Greenberg.

“I think it is a big deal this year. He brought a lot to the table not just on the court, but off the court,” Marsh said. “A lot of guys looked up to him and now we have to have guys step up. We tended to stand around and watch him work. We have to move the ball around more. It got a little stagnant.”

The new players on the roster are not ones that relied on Greenberg so they come to the Spires ready and willing to make their mark.

“We bring in a lot of new fight and we all come in from different areas so we are bringing in our different aspects and strengths to the game to meet with what is already here to make for a better team,” Roy Clayter said. “Grant is gone and it will be hard to replace him with one single player, but coach Brown did a good job of getting guys who can do what Grant was doing, but it’s more spread out. It’s not just one Grant, it’s a little bit of Grant here, a little bit of Grant here.”

The Spires need to have players take the mantle of wanting to take the big shots and play defense at a high level when it matters most.

“Our offense for the better part of four years ran through Grant. He was the face of this program and he was the player behind the wheel driving this offense,” Brown said. “All our guys last year deferred to him but they knew the ball needed to be in his hands because good things happened when he had the ball. Our biggest downfall last year was we couldn't step up and get important stops on defense when we needed to. Our offense was good enough to win the league – our defense was not. I do believe that our offense would get stagnate at times when Grant had the ball. There was always a lot of watching when he had it because our guys knew he was going to make a move to score it.   

“Even as a coach I would catch myself watching Grant to see what he was going to do.”

Now Brown has a number of athletes who can score the ball and provide a better look defensively.

“I got guys that can guard and keep the ball in front,” Brown said. “We should be way more athletic around the rim. We got some great catch and shoot players. We have a good mix of guys that can get to the rim, come off ball screens and shoot the 3.

“It's still very early and with all the new faces it will take a while for us to figure out who we are. We will learn a lot about ourselves these first couple of games. With all the new guys they still have no clue how to play together and how to play off each other. When we need a bucket, we don't know yet who that go-to guy is. We are 10-12 deep so we could get to the point of just subbing in waves of five every four or five minutes to keep the pressure on defense up.”

The newcomers now are just trying to make all the pieces fit into place.

“We just need to mold our game into coach’s expectations and what he is used to seeing in his offense,” Clayter said. “Everyone feels confident.”

The older players are liking what they see from the new Spires.

“There are a lot of guys who can go score,” Marsh said. “We are going to be a lot deeper and athletic. We have a lot of athletes. I am really impressed with the new guys and what we are bringing. This conference is tough and we have brought in a lot of athletes in the past who can play and I don’t have any hardware to show for it. You can be twice as good as another team and if you don’t show up you will lose.”

Once again, the KCAC should be a slugfest.

“The league is wide open,” Brown said. “I think the favorites going in are Southwestern and York with how they finished last year and who they have coming back. But there are teams like us that lost big-time, productive players that need to figure themselves out as well. If we get guys to buy in, play together and get after it defensively we will be right there in the mix at the end of the year.”