From stars to scrubs

Andrew Wuebker, Sports Editor

The far end of the Hawks’ bench has some new scrubs. And they’re making a heck of a lot of noise.

Making the jump from high school to college is already a difficult transition for some students. For student-athletes who were the cream of the crop in high school, it can be even tougher.

Not these guys — at least not anymore, anyway. That’s just how they make it out to be.

“Let’s go!” said freshman JJ Pfohl. “Bench squad!”

A confident and charismatic “bench squad,” the latest additions to the Roger Williams University men’s basketball team consisting of true freshmen Chris Chapell, Jonah St. Clair, Andrew Hart, Doug Hostetler, Pfohl, and Jeff Stockmal are no longer taking their time tip-toeing through the greener than green grass at RWU, but rolling in it. 

The group hasn’t been intimidated by the drastic change in scenery from high school to college, nor their change in roles on the court that routinely happens to many student-athletes–going from a star, go-to guy in high school to being part of the latest batch of scrubs on a college bench.

So it begs the questions: how did these freshmen seamlessly make this transition? How were they so willing to accept their new roles on the court?

The answer actually can be found off the court, as much as it can on it.

“A thing I’ve noticed a lot is everyone fits in pretty well,” St. Clair said. “It’s not like there’s the starters and there’s everyone else. I feel like [because we are] practicing so much together everyone feels like a part of the team.”

Even with differing personalities, the freshmen have found a way to fit in and mesh with a well-established Hawks team that features nine returners and is looking to build off a 19-win season. Pfohl for one, claims he’s an outgoing and talkative guy that loves heavy sleep and takes four plates of food at Commons. Stockmal is the opposite; a shy, hardcore… gamer?

“Call of Duty is me in the group,” Stockmal admitted. “I’m the one that is the ‘gamer’ I guess.”

“If he spent a third of the time he spent on Call of Duty doing classwork,” St. Clair said, turning to Stockmal, “you would’ve already graduated.”

The relationships of the entire team extends beyond the boundaries of basketball. The team can often be seen eating meals together, especially on the weekends. Late night practices often lead to late night food runs at Lower Commons. After consecutive intense weeks of practice, the Hawks went bowling as a team a couple weekends ago for some much-needed r&r. And players-only meetings every other week provide players an opportunity to talk about what’s going on and voice whatever thoughts are on their minds.

Once the relationships were down, the off-the-court stuff became easy.

On the court, it was slightly more difficult. The freshmen used the words “rough,” “competitive,” and “fast-paced” to describe practices in the early going. The level of conditioning and physicality that needed be met to be able to compete at the Division III level was naturally a bit of an obstacle for these eyases. Shortly, however, the freshmen class began showing their potential through practice and even earned the praise of coaches Michael Tully and Dan Weidmann, calling them “coachable,” “attentive,” “unselfish,” and “talented.”

This freshmen class’ talent in part was the other difficult aspect of this transition. To go from starting to scrubbing can be difficult for some players to deal with at first. Pfohl was a starter since his junior year in high school. St. Clair was also a starter in the later years of his high school career. Hostetler scored 1,000 points. Stockmal, a 1,300-plus point scorer, was shouldered with the load of carrying a team since he was a sophomore. 

“I was a man since sophomore year in high school,” Stockmal said, “so like I was the go-to guy since I was 16 and now it’s different because I was used to that role but now it’s different being a bench player… but it also makes it kind of competitive because now I’m working against these guys for minutes on the team, so it makes it competitive but also fun. All of us want to win.”

At the end of the day, the Hawks’ dominating culture of hard work, sacrifice, and a willingness to win prevails over the personal goals of a single player. Now in the supporting role, the freshmen will have to make their biggest impact from the bench. 

“You just have to be ready, just have to keep engaged while you’re on the bench,” Hart said. “You can’t just be like sitting back there relaxing, having a good time. Like you still need to be in the game and know what’s going on. And the coaches also make a big point of getting the bench involved. Like having a loud bench because that kind of keeps you in the game and it also helps the players on the court at that time.”

Of course, these freshmen don’t know the day when their number will be called. Pfohl and St. Clair pointed out that in the meantime, they’re investing in “starting from the ground up” and keeping a “positive mindset” until their opportunity arrives.

“We always say we’re gonna push each other to the limits on the court, but we’re gonna be friends, family all off the court,” Pfohl said.

It’s a whole new stage for these young players. Although unproven, the potential in their talent is possibly reason enough for them to contribute this season in limited minutes.

Fittingly, Stockmal believes in the young guns and provided some quality parting words.

“Watch out for the bench players.”