There’s hardly a day that goes by that The Master’s University men’s basketball team doesn’t think about last season’s national tournament. The Mustangs entered the NAIA National Tournament as the No. 1 seed. They packed their luggage to the brim as they headed to Kansas, anticipating a long run in the tourney. Instead, they lost to No. 8 seed Peru State of Nebraska in the first round. “I feel like before that, we were kind of like, ‘Okay, we’re winning, we’re good,’” said point guard Hansel Atencia. “Like, we weren’t like thinking about the big picture and I think that’s the main thing for us this year.” Master’s has begun this season as a determined, focused group. A promise has been made to get back to Kansas.
“We have big goals, we have big intentions and we fell short,” said guard Darryl McDowell-White. “I think we don’t want to go out and prove anybody wrong, but we want to prove ourselves right. That we put in enough work.” The Mustangs, who were named No. 1 in the NAIA preseason coaches’ poll, have developed an unselfish style of play that led them to wins in a brutal pre-conference slate. They earned wins over NCAA Division 2 programs Azusa-Pacific University and Concordia University, Irvine to open the season. Then, the team travelled to Dallas to play No. 2 LSU Alexandria and No. 7 LSU Shreveport in the Texas Wesleyan Classic, splitting the series. The 94-87 loss to LSU Alexandria was necessary, according to Atencia. “I think I’m glad it happened already because that’s going to humble ourselves and know that we need to like, have a lot of stuff to work on and even though we’re No. 1, it doesn’t really matter,” he said. Atencia is one of two seniors on the team, alongside Delewis Johnson. The latter has recently become a leader on the team and is currently averaging 14 points per game and has recorded a team-high seven rebounds per game. Atencia leads the team with 20.3 points per game and plays well off of Johnson. “He’s a big part of who we are as a team right now,” Atencia said. McDowell-White has been a workhorse for the team, averaging 24.7 minutes per game. He’s logged 10.3 ppg and is shooting 45.5 percent from 3-point range. “For me, it’s just once I’m focused and locked in its kind of sporadic,” McDowell-White said, “but I like to say there’s kind of a bit of poetry to it once I’m locked in.” Jordan Starr, who was on Santa Clarita Christian School’s state championship team last season, has quickly acclimated to the college game after facing a potential redshirt season entering his freshman year. Against LSU Alexandria, he recorded 10 total rebounds, 12 assists and 13 points. Overall, he ranks sixth on the team with 9.3 ppg. “Playing with him makes my life easier,” Atencia said. “If I want to score, I’m having a good day scoring, he’ the one that’s going to get me the ball because he understands and sees the court really well.” Master’s opens Golden State Athletic Conference play against Ottawa University Arizona on Nov. 29 to continue its journey to another national championship and beyond. “Even if that happened last season, we ended it that way, that was just a process to building towards the season again,” McDowell-White said. “We’re in the works of trying to build something that is long-lasting.