Xavier Gold Rush usher in 2023-24 basketball season with great expectations
If the season-opening 86-67 victory over crosstown-rival Dillard is any indication, Xavier University head coach Alfred Williams’ eight team at his alma mater could be one of his best.
The 2022-23 Gold Rush compiled a 23-9 record and knocked off pre-tournament favorite LSU-Shreveport,79-63, for the Red River Athletic Conference (RRAC) Tournament Championship. The win qualified Xavier for the NAIA nationals for the fourth consecutive year and the fifth time in six seasons.
First team All-RRAC performer Xavier Reaves is no longer on the floor but still with the program as a graduate assistant.
However, this year’s club will look like last year’s champions. Literally.
“We are returning our top seven players from last year,” said Williams. “I would say it’s an experienced team that is still uncovering some layers of how good we could be.”
And that could be scary.
“A lot of people are getting transfers trying to work on their chemistry. We have chemistry built in. That could be an advantage and it could be a detriment.”
“It can make it difficult keeping them invested in doing the small things repeatedly. It gets redundant at times but at the end of the year if you are winning championships, they appreciate it.”
XULA was very appreciative with nine wins in their last 10 games entering nationals. The Gold Rush lost to eventual national champion College of Idaho in the second round of the NAIA Tournament.
This experienced group is led by senior guard TJ Jones, who has been around for 3 conference titles and showed he’s ready for this season with 28 points, 5 assists and 4 steals against Dillard.
Junior guard Lance Williams, from Baton Rouge was second team All-Conference last year,
Senior guard Jeremy Lindsey is a product of Holy Cross High School in New Orleans. Williams calls Lindsey the team’s solid, emotional anchor.
Corey Well, a 6-7 senior, has improved each year. Coach Williams is looking for big things from the Texas native. His 18 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists in the season opener against the Bleu Devils could be a sign of things to come.
Jathen Ross out of Evangel Christian in Shreveport is the team’s sharpshooter. He led Xavier with three games of more than 20 points and registered the only 30-point contest of last season for the usually balanced Gold Rush.
“Jathen has set the school mark for 3-pointers in a single game,” says Williams.
There’s plenty of experience in the post with two 6-9 players in Chris Ward, a two-year letterman, and Cory Dunning, who has three years in the program.
Look for contributions from transfers LaDamien Bradford, a 6-5 guard forward from Louisiana Tech, and Kian Nixon from Cheyney.
Williams says the conference could be better than last year. LSU-Shreveport has added several Division One transfers. Still, he was surprised Xavier was not the preseason pick to win the RRAC. The Gold Rush was picked second with LSU-S the favorite.
“I think the guys saw that. We don’t need much fuel, but I think they will be ready for that moment to go into conference play to show everyone how good we can be.”
A program with a tradition of winning, the 2023-24 season sounds like a “no excuses” campaign.
“We have high expectations, so we try to make sure we reach those expectations, and anything less will feel like a disappointment for sure.”
Experience, versatility and depth are admirable characteristics of any team.
“Last year we had the opportunity to go 5-in and 5-out when we wanted to,” beamed Williams. “We were versatile, and it showed at the end of the year when we were able to go on our run for the tournament championship. I want us to be that way this year and that could happen if some of our complimentary guys take that next step.”
Williams and the Xavier Gold Rush appear primed for plenty of winning.
“I’m really excited about this group.”
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