The 2022-2023 season marks the first time that the Men’s Basketball Team is eligible for the postseason as a Division II program and the Dolphins will tip off in the first round of the East Coast Conference Tournament tonight against the University of the District of Columbia. Ahead of their Division II playoff debut, Head Coach T.J. Tibbs and freshman JJ Chestnut looked back on the season and shared some insight into how they are preparing for the what lies ahead.
One are that the team values most and that has led to the success they’ve seen this season is the bond that exists between them. “We’re very close, we all love each other, and we sacrifice a lot for each other,” said Tibbs. “What’s rare is that the coaches and players have tremendous relationships outside of basketball. We all want to see the best out of each other.”
“This is the best relationship that I’ve had with coaches, I feel like I could talk to them about my life rather than just basketball,” added Chestnut. “Player to player, they really feel like my brothers. I feel like I’ve known them forever.” When asked about the culture of the CSI Athletics Department, Chestnut had nothing but praise. “Honestly, I love it. I come from a high school where it didn’t feel like anything more than just playing basketball,” said Chestnut. “It seems like we’re trying to build something way bigger than basketball.”
Coming into this season, the preparation for games didn’t change much, but the goals for the team certainly did. “The goal of chasing the playoffs and a championship is the biggest difference,” Tibbs said. “We’re still adjusting to being a Division II program, but we want to be the best Division II program in the region.”
In terms of academic success as a Division II student-athlete, Chestnut found the best way to excel in the classroom is with a higher level of commitment to being organized. “Building a schedule, staying organized, and managing your time is really important,” Chestnut said. “I struggled with doing that, but since I’ve built a schedule, I wake up every day and I know what I’m going to do.”
The last time the Dolphins appeared in the playoffs was their final year of Division III competition in the 2018-2019 season. Coach Tibbs will bring his knowledge of coaching a playoff team into the upcoming East Coast Conference postseason. When asked if there is anything specific from his experience that he plans to incorporate into his preparation for the playoffs, he answered, “Everything.”
“What you did before against these teams doesn’t matter. The intensity of the playoff games is unlike anything else,” said Tibbs. “Every possession really matters.” From a player’s perspective, heading into the playoffs, the focus is on controlling what they can and understanding the potential impact of every play. “We’re trying to avoid simply doing things without taking a moment to understand why things are happening,” Chestnut explained. “We’re trying to control what we can control first and foremost.”
“I think that the guys have been taking steps individually in getting better and that only helps us as a collective,” added Tibbs. “Now, the biggest thing for us is making sure that we’re all on the same page mentally, we’re confident, and that we understand that we not only worked hard to get here, but we belong here.”
The Dolphins will take on the University of the District of Columbia is the first round of the East Coast Conference Championship Tournament tomorrow night at 8:00 PM. They are joined on the road by the Women’s Basketball Team who also drew the Firebirds in the opening round of the tournament. That game will tip off ahead of the men’s game at 5:30 PM.