Babson: A team of leaders

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Travis Sheldon's role has been more off the floor than on it this season for Babson.
Photo by Pat Coleman, D3sports.com

By Ryan Scott
D3sports.com

The Babson men’s basketball program traces its history to 1931. Over the next 83 years, the Beavers won exactly two NCAA tournament games – the same number they won in each of the past two weekends. The 2015 version of Babson men’s basketball heads to the Final Four in Salem on a mission that’s been years in the making.

For coach Stephen Brennan, it began in 1989 when he arrived at Babson as an assistant under Serge DeBari. With now 20 years in charge of the program, Brennan has learned some things about teamwork. “Communication is paramount to team success,” he says, which is exemplified in his use of a leadership team to encourage purpose and accountability throughout the year.

Comprised of seniors John Wickey, Dave Mack, and Eric Dean; leading scorer, sophomore Joey Flannery; and junior Travis Sheldon, these players exemplify what Brennan believes are great models for their fellow student athletes. Typically made up of upperclassmen, last year’s D3hoops.com Northeast Region rookie of the year, Flannery, was included because of his importance to the team on the floor.

That group began preparing for this season’s run the moment the buzzer sounded in last year’s first-round upset loss to Gordon College.

“Last year our mind-set was different,” says Sheldon, “We were just happy to be there. We didn’t win our conference tournament. We were excited to get an at-large bid. We enjoyed the experience.

“There have been a lot of people telling us to do the same thing with the Final Four. But this is not the time to soak it in. We still have work to do. We’re not satisfied just to get there.”

It has been intentional work. Besides the effort on the floor – Babson enters Salem with a nation’s best record, 29-2 – the leadership team made a special effort to keep everyone focused and united towards winning a national championship.

Says Mack, “[The leadership team] met formally in the spring and fall, once we got into the season and knew who we each connect best with on the team it’s become more informal.”

Who will win the men's national title?
Augustana
Babson
UW-Stevens Point
Virginia Wesleyan

Over the summer, these leaders connected with teammates to maintain a connection and make sure everyone was continuing to work on their game. “The value of having five guys is that each guy can reach out to different people. We each connect with different guys and this helps us get the best out of everyone,” says Sheldon.

Sheldon may have as much invested in this season as anyone. The junior started as a freshman, but sees the floor for less than four minutes per game this year, and played in fewer than half of the games. Still he is a major presence in the huddle on the back of a reputation he earned through hard work and leadership. “I’ve always been a gym rat; I pride myself on that. I want to work hard. My freshman year it was a different program. People were cutting out [of team activities] early or not showing up at all. I knew we had to change this [culture], because I wanted more out of this experience.”

“We go to practice and he is pumping everybody up every day,” Brennan said of Sheldon after the win vs. Trinity. “Whether he's on the scout team or on the walkthrough team or whatever, he's trying to bring energy.

“He's the best talker as far as in the game. It's like having another coach. It's great to have it come from someone else, because they hear it from me all the time.”

Babson fans and players celebrate, storming the floor after the Beavers' win in the Elite Eight.
Photo by Pat Coleman, D3sports.com

The culture shift has caught on and is embodied by the entire team. There is no floor leader on this squad; the entire team shares the load, spreading 300 team assists almost evenly among six players. “Joey and Wick get the individual accolades,” says Brennan, “But guys like Eric Dean bring a toughness that’s been most important to our success this year. Not just Eric, but all the way down the roster, they do things that don’t show up in the box score.”

This may be the key to Babson’s success in Salem. Often we see bigger, defensive-minded teams from the Midwest encounter quicker, more high-scoring teams from the east, but the Beavers boast players quick enough to shoot from outside and big enough to bang in the paint with the giants from Augustana.

Brennan and his squad are not underestimating the Vikings, but they’re also not intimidated by the stage or the opposition. “The most important thing for us is that we’ve got to do what we do, whether it’s here or in Salem, Va.,” says Brennan.

What they do is share the ball, play tough defense, and rely on each other.

Nothing speaks to that more than the fact there’s barely been mention of Flannery in this article – and I suspect he’s just fine with it. A sophomore averaging 20 points per game, recently named D3hoops.com Player of the Year for the Northeast, Flannery is full of a star’s requisite humility and the relative silence of an underclassman on a senior-laden team. When asked about anything related to his personal accomplishment, he responds with Belichickian repetition, “We just want to get two wins this weekend.”

With the talent they put on the floor, the discipline, teamwork and focus they’ve invested in this season, and the toughness they’ve shown in difficult wins the past two weeks, it’s difficult to believe these Babson Beavers won’t do just that.