To handle the pressure of national rankings, media attention and the excitement of an almost perfect season, the basketball team has to be more than physically strong. The 27-1 Racers also rely on mental toughness to focus through the distractions this season has presented.
“It’s one of the most important things about basketball or any sport,” senior guard Jewuan Long said. “If you’re not right mentally you can’t go out and perform right, especially in a team sport or you won’t be a good teammate.”
The team watches film of its last game and then puts on a new mindset in order to adequately prepare for the next game and opponent.
“That’s kind of our job,” junior guard Isaiah Canaan said. “We try to put the last game behind us and try to focus on the one in front of us. So we get new film, we come out with a new game preparation with what the coaches have broke down for us of how we’re going to guard this player or this team, so we put everything we learned from the last game (aside) and start off with a new slab for the next game.”
Because the Racers’ historic season has placed the team in the epicenter of college basketball attention, Long said it is more important than ever to be mentally strong.
“With this year going like this, you get all the hype and all the people telling you how good you are and all the stuff like that,” Long said. “If you’re not right mentally you’ll take that all in and start believing all the hype and believing you’re better than you are and you might get relaxed. So you have to be very strong mentally with ups and downs.”
The team takes a balanced approach to game preparation, which includes more than focusing on the success of previous games.
“That’s a big part of being successful, you’ve got to keep getting better and work on weaknesses,” Long said. “If you’re doing good you’ve got to realize you can always do better. Take the (game against Saint Mary’s) for example, I feel like we had too many turnovers so I think we still need to work on that and we gave up a few offensive rebounds, not many, I think we did better than usual but we still have to get better. When you’re doing good you’ve got to realize there is always room for improvement.”
After the coaches prepare the team with film sessions and practice, each athlete has his own way of setting their mind for the next game.
“With me, I know I can’t do it without God,” Long said. “I always have faith that whether I’m in a good situation or a bad situation he’ll see me through and help me out a lot. Especially if times are bad and I’m not doing good, I just have faith that the next game or the next play I’m going to do better at it. So being mentally strong for me, well, God is a big part of that.”
Canaan’s strategy is a little different.
“I usually get tape of the last game and just watch it and see what I think we need to work on or what I need to do better to help my team out,” Canaan said. “And once I watch that I just try to go out the next day at practice and try to better myself and better my team the best I can and listen to a little music.”
Murray State rookie Head Coach Steve Prohm has his own pre-game routine as well.
“Before games I have a leadership book I read, I’ve got my devotional passage I read from there, I’ll review my notes and my scouting reports, review what plays I think will be effective and go from there,” Prohm said. “The morning before shoot around I’ll go through all the prep for shoot around and do all my notes and everything. Usually the night before the game I’ll just put everything away and relax but the morning of the game I’ll do one more prep routine to get ready for shoot around.”
Prohm helps the team mentally prepare in numerous ways.
“I try to challenge them every day,” Prohm said. “Whether it’s in practice or challenging them spiritually, challenge them motivationally, talking to them about life, goals, things mainly in those areas.”
Despite slicing and dicing the previous records for Murray State basketball, the team is not caught up in the record-setting season or present victories.
“We kind of remember it but then put it behind us until the end of the season when we can actually go back and look at some of the greater wins we had throughout the season,” Canaan said. “But we take one game at a time.”
There are consequences to allowing the mental game to weaken, Long said.
“If you’re not strong mentally and things are going bad then they’re only going to get worse because you’ll think about it and you can’t perform like you want to because you’re always thinking about it,” Long said. “You have to be strong in every aspect of the game.”
As the team heads into its fourth consecutive senior night Saturday at Tennessee Tech, the team is preparing to best Tech convincingly.
“We’ve got to go into it with a business mind frame knowing that the next (game) could be possibly, probably our hardest road game of the season so we’ve got to go in with a business mind frame,” Canaan said. “They’re going to be pumped up and ready to play and we’ve got to be able to play also.”