There’s a renewed excitement around the U.N.I. basketball team as the Panthers prepare for the upcoming season. U.N.I. returns all but one player from a season ago, and according to head coach Ben Jacobson, the Panthers have had one of the best off-seasons in his tenure at U.N.I.

“I think that is mainly a result of our guys being a more experienced group,” Jacobson says. He says that is part of guys getting older and realizing they are going into their senior and junior years and they are motivated to do well.

During U.N.I.’s media day activities on Tuesday, Jacobson said that the Panthers have essentially gained more than a decade of experience from last season. He says they have 14 guys with an extra year of experience and he says that is significant when you look at it overall.

 Senior guard Marc Sonnen says that experience of playing together for at least one full season gives the Panthers a lot of confidence in each other. “That year, you gain so much, and not just in basketball abilities, but I feel like as a team you gain so much in chemistry and trust in each other,” Sonnen explains. “And I think that’s a big thing when it comes down to crunch times when things start to get tough, you can fall back on each other and trust each other, and I think that’s the thing we really have in each other.

Senior forward Jake Koch says that there’s an added comfort level with this team. He says they know each other’s game and when they drive they know where they are going to be on the court and know their tendencies and that makes you feel more comfortable. 

Jacobson says he can already see a difference in his team’s confidence level. He says last year there were a lot of questions among individuals about whether they were ready to go. “Those aren’t bad things those are things you have to go through, have to experience if you are going to move to the next level,” Jacobson explains.

 The Panthers begin practice a week from Friday and open their season on November 10th against Wartburg. U.N.I. will be without leading scorer Anthony James for their first three games as he serves a suspension for violating team rules.

By Jesse Gavin, KCNZ, Cedar Falls