Before coming to Wright State, coach Scott Nagy took South Dakota State to the Cancun Challenge in 2015, and current Raiders point guard Cole Gentry, who played for Nagy then, also made the trip.
But while going to a sunny locale with an ocean nearby is a perk for the program, don’t expect either of them to be tour guides for the rest of the team this week. They plan to have a single-minded focus and don’t intend to spend any time working on their tans.
“I told our guys, ‘I could go to the Upper Peninsula in Michigan and it wouldn’t matter to me. I’m going to win and coach two games,’” Nagy said. “I don’t really care to go. Everybody likes that, but I’m away from my family, and my family doesn’t want to go with me because I’m miserable to be with. It’s not like it’s a vacation.”
“It’s a lot of fun, but we’re going with the mentality that we want to win two basketball games,” Gentry said. “It’s not anything but a business trip for us, and we understand that.”
The Raiders (3-1) will face Penn State (2-1) at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday and then will meet either Bradley (3-1) or SMU (2-2) on Wednesday. Both games will be televised on the CBS Sports Network.
All eight teams in the event are staying at the luxurious Hard Rock Hotel on the beach in Puerto Aventuras, Mexico, not far from the Cayman Islands.
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The Raiders had been working on a multi-team exempt tournament for this year in Boise, Idaho, but it fell through. The staff then began discussions with the Cancun Challenge staff, and the Raiders’ late season-surge to an NCAA tourney berth helped to solidify it.
They’ll play in the upper Riviera Division, while Western Carolina, North Florida, Jacksonville State and Southern Miss are playing in the lower Mayan Division.
Nagy had success in his previous Cancun experience, winning the lower division by posting road wins against TCU and Illinois State and beating Cleveland State and Houston Baptist in Mexico.
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“It’s exciting, but it’s also a good test to see how focused we can get,” center Loudon Love said. “We kind of had that nice experience in March Madness last year, and you see what happened to us (a blowout loss to Tennessee). The coaches will be on us. They won’t let us forget we’re there for basketball.”
Recruiting class: The Raiders signed four high school seniors, all of them perimeter players, last week: 6-0 Trey Calvin of Arlington Heights, Ill., who won a state 3-point contest in March; 6-4 Noah Freidel of Tea, S.D., who averaged 26 points last season and led his team to a state runner-up finish; 6-3 Andre Harris of Lyndhurst (Ohio) Brush who averaged 13 points, seven rebounds and four assists as a junior; and 6-6 Tanner Holden of Wheelersburg who was a first-team Division III All-Ohio pick last season.
“All those guys are really good fits for us in terms of what we do,” Nagy said. “We’ll be set at the 1, 2 and 3 spots for quite a while now.”
He said Freidel is one of only two Division-I recruits in South Dakota and likely will be the state player of the year.
“You look at him, and you’re a little unsure because he doesn’t look like a phenomenal athlete. But he just knows how to put the ball in the basket,” Nagy said. “And Trey, without question, will be our next point guard. He’s exactly our kind of player.”
The Raiders have one scholarship left in the 2019 class and hope to land a post player.