New East Central University men’s basketball head coach Ja Havens isn’t ready to talk conference championships or glossy win-loss records just yet.
Instead, Havens and the Tigers are focused on the here and now.
“My background and my approach — I'm very process oriented. I'm really tunnel visioned and focused on my team,” Havens said during a Great American Conference interview. “Those are destinations and are down the road. My focus has been 100 percent on trying to get better every day. We want to really focus on the things we can control.”
The ECU men haven’t finished with a winning record since the 2007-08 season, when the Tigers finished the season at 14-13. Last year, East Central was 8-18 overall and 5-15 in Great American Conference play.
Havens and company hope to change that. Right now, though, he’s concentrating on helping his team be the best it can be when the Tigers open the 2013-14 season Nov. 8 against Lone Star Conference power Angelo State at the Southwestern Oklahoma State Classic in Weatherford.
“I think we have a good plan. I think we have good players. What ultimately is going to happen, I can't tell you. I can't see into the future. I do know they are working hard and trying to do what the coaching staff is asking them to do,” Havens said. “I really like our group. I think they're hungry. They're (ECU's returning players) not happy with the way things have gone. They've bought in. They're working hard every day, and that's what I've asked them to do.”
Havens, who became the sixth head coach for the ECU men’s basketball team in April, will rely on a six-pack of seniors and some talented underclassmen and newcomers to get the program back on track. Those seniors include Chris Fisher, Colby Carr, Chris Lee, Henry Pwono, Shaq Burrell and Miles Mitchell.
Fisher will run the show as the team’s point guard.
“Chris has been not only a vocal leader, but a leader by example with his work ethic,” Havens said.
Carr shot well over 50 percent from the field last season and dished out 136 assists as a part-time starter.
“Colby Carr is another returning player we need to be good for us to be at a high level,” Havens said.
Pwono will provide an inside threat with his 6-7, 230-pound frame, while Lee — who is coming back from an injury — will also spend time in the paint for the Tigers.
Havens also has been pleased with Burrell during the preseason.
“He’s an energy guy, and I love what he brings to the table on a daily basis. He does whatever he can to make himself and his teammates better every day,” he said.
“We're going to count on those seniors. Our success is going to come down to what they do and their leadership,” Havens continued.
A number of ECU’s younger players are fighting for playing time, including former Ada High product Nick Anderson and Latta High School graduate Reed Johnson.
“We treat it like every day is a job interview. When you step between the lines, you are competing for a spot. We've been pleased with the overall competition level that we've had in practice. The newcomers to the program have come in, and they're competing,” Havens said. “I couldn't tell you how it's going to shake out right now. The thing about this group is we have depth — we have a number of players that could provide an impact this year.”
ECU’s November schedule also includes games with LSC powers Midwestern State and Tarleton State was well as GAC foes Ouachita Baptist and Henderson State.
“It's very much a challenge. If you look at the early schedule ... we've got a big-time challenge,” Havens admitted. “We're really going to find out a lot about our team early on.”
However November goes, Havens thinks his team will be better in January and February because of the early tests.
“We're going to get immediate feedback. It will give us a great measure of where we're at and where we need to go,” he said. “My approach has always been that I never mind playing good people. Our goal is to compete at the highest end of Division II, and we're going to get an opportunity to do that very early this season.”