Coaches & Athletes Disagree About Basketball’s Struggles

(Fontbonne’s Men’s Team Practicing in the Mabee Gymnasium in late January.)

Written by Quinn Wilson

This season has been the worst season in Fontbonne University men’s basketball history, finishing with a 3-22 record. Their first 14 losses were by 10 points or more. The Griffins found victories in an overtime game against MacMurray College in early December 2016, and twice against Spalding University by margins of three and six points. 

Head Coach Lance Thornhill believes the team’s struggles stem from the basketball team changing head coaches three times since 2014. Former starter Kody Ettinger disagrees.

(Coach Thornhill in his office at Fontbonne University.)

Thornhill, now in his second season, has worked at Fontbonne for 22 years. During his tenure, he has been a part of four conference titles and four national championship tournament appearances. Last season Coach Thornhill became the third head coach of the men’s team in the past three seasons.

Thornhill has worked to blend his first recruiting class with the existing upperclassmen,  which presented difficult relationship dynamics. He believes that the players have done a good job working with each other. The team is working to “get over the hump” of winning games when in late-game situations.

Thornhill also explained that for the first time in his time at Fontbonne, the team is without any full-time assistant coaches. “It definitely puts a bigger strain on recruiting for me.”

Kody Ettinger, a senior member of the men’s team since 2013, contributed as a top-five scorer in each of his seasons on the team. This year, he stood out as the third leading scorer, up until his decision to leave in January 2017. Ettinger’s hopes for the team were soured after a number of “personnel changes.”

Ettinger made his decision to part ways following a game at Eureka College on January 4, 2017. He felt that his upperclassmen were not effectively utilized in the second half, potentially costing the game and their eighth consecutive loss. As a result, Ettinger made his choice to prematurely end his basketball career at Fontbonne.

According to Ettinger, the coaches began to favor the freshmen players over the upperclassmen. “It seemed like [Thornhill] was weaning [the upperclassmen] off the floor and getting [the freshmen players] a little more experience.” He admits that the younger players have talent, but did not think the coaching staff properly choose who received more playing time.

The thought of leaving the team had been “culminating” within him throughout the season. “With student-teaching I was crunched on time. I was trying to make it work because I love basketball.” Ettinger felt he was not getting the team experience that he wanted.

One of Coach Thornhill’s goals has been to provide as good of an experience for his players as he can. He admitted that throughout the season he has tried more than ten different mixes of players to help the team find more victories.

Thornhill believes the team needs to stick to their dedicated work ethic as hard each game and keep asking themselves, “Are your actions and attitudes making the team better right now?”

Ettinger agrees that the players simply needed to come together and play for each other.

While Ettinger believes a new coach is needed for a successful future, Coach Thornhill made it clear that the team needs a consistent coaching staff to build a new foundation for the team.

Quinn Wilson is the News Editor and a contributor to Fontbonne University’s Griffin Roar.