Last season, Montreat College's men's basketball team didn’t pick up its second win until the middle of December. The last time the Cavaliers had a winning season was in 2006-07 (19-13).
Things are different for the Cavaliers this year. At 10-2, the team has its best start in 12 years.
Garrett Jones, in his second year as Montreat's head coach, was a player on an Oklahoma Wesleyan University team that won the NAIA Division II national championship his senior year. Afterward, as a graduate assistant at the school, the team advanced to the final rounds of eight and four.
Jones followed head coach Donnie Bostwick from Oklahoma Wesleyan to Southwestern Assemblies of God University in Waxahachie, Texas.
“I was there for four years, and we made it to the NAIA Division I national championship game our second year there,” he said. “We also had a player while I was there who was as two-time national player of the year.”
Jones accepted the Montreat job late in summer 2015, and with no time to recruit for the upcoming season, he had a roster of about a dozen players.
"My approach last year was to try to help the players, as best I could, acclimate to a coaching change," he said. "I also tried to help them see how I wanted things done in our program. My main goal last year was to build the foundation."
One of the pieces from last season's 4-20 team on which Jones is building is sophomore guard Alonzo Mobley, who was named freshman of the year in the Appalachian Athletic Conference. The rest of the roster this season is drastically different from the team on the floor last year.
"First we had to identify what our needs were after last season based off of the players we lost," Jones said. "We lost a lot of players, so we needed to find a lot of guys."
Jones credits his assistant coaches with recruiting players who fit not only his team's culture, but also fit the mission of the Christ-centered school. From a basketball standpoint, the coaching staff looks at three key components, according to Jones.
"We look for guys that have motors, which means guys that can rebound and play hard all day," he said. "We look for guys that can shoot the ball, because 3-point shooting is something we take pride in. And we look for guys that have that competitive nature about them that refuse to lose."
Enter players like 6-foot-7-inch junior forward David Everage, who transferred to Montreat from Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho.
"He's been a godsend for us," Jones said. "He's one of the best big men in our league. He's a pretty special talent, and he's only a junior."
Everage is one of only three juniors on the Cavaliers' roster, which doesn't feature a single senior this season. But where many coaches may see inexperience, Jones sees room for growth.
"We're really young," he said. "But from a talent standpoint we're definitely heading in the right direction, and I'm excited about that."
With eight conference games, January gives the Cavaliers the opportunity to show how far they've come since last season. Jones has warned his young players of the dangers of getting overconfident.
"I know adversity is coming, and there's going to be bumps in the road," he said. "I think the most important thing for this group is to not worry about wins and losses, but to continue to get better every game. The big thing is that we don't get complacent as a team."