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May 29, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Sports

Junior becomes key player on a young basketball team

In a game against St. John Fisher College on Jan. 28, the Ithaca College men’s basketball team had an unsung hero in junior guard Joey Flanagan. After making two 3-point shots in the first two minutes of the game, he went on to shoot a perfect four-for-four from 3-point range throughout the game.

Though the Bombers ended up losing, Flanagan came away with 14 points, a season high for him. Despite not starting a majority of the games this season, as younger talent has come in and taken over some of the starting roles, he has been a consistent contributor and leader throughout the season.

Flanagan, who is entering his third season with the team, finds himself among a group of juniors who are tasked with the responsibility of being the main leaders on and off the court since the men’s basketball team has no seniors. Despite the unprecedented situation, Flanagan said he knows what is expected of him and his teammates.

“I think the most important thing when I want to look up to someone is that they lead by example,” Flanagan said. “We want the young guys to see how much time we’re in the gym and how much time it takes to be a committed college basketball player. If we get in extra hours in the gym, the younger guys will, too, and everything will fall into place.”

So far this season, Flanagan is averaging 8.8 points per game and shooting 60 percent from the field and 48 percent from 3-point range.

An offensive spark for the team, he said he focuses on shooting and getting to the basket. He said he realizes, though, that scoring is not the only important part of the game.

“It’s kind of a reoccurring theme with our team this year that we’re such a great scoring team that we sometimes neglect the defense and rebounding,” Flanagan said. “We let the people who are great at rebounding do that, but if we all buckle down and play defense and rebound every possession and not just try to score, we would all benefit from that.”

The Poughkeepsie, New York, native expressed sympathy for the freshmen on the team. Having been there himself, he said he understands the struggle to adjust to the next level as well as fight for playing time. However, he said he knows how to carve out space for himself in the rotation.

“You find your way onto the court in different ways,” he said. “In my situation, it was defense. That’s what got me in my groove. Then, my next year I went into more of a scoring role. This year it’s kind of evolved a little from that. I’m trying to score, and still trying to buckle down on defense because that’s what the team really needs.”

Flanagan said this year’s freshman class is an impressive group whose hard work is already paying off for the team.

“I think the best freshmen are the ones who work the hardest,” Flanagan said. “They’re eager to prove themselves, and they end up being really good players because of it. We already have some freshmen who are contributing a ton, not just scoring points but rebounding and defense especially.”

Flanagan’s lead-by-example style has had an early impact on his underclassmen teammates. Freshman guard Riley Thompson said his adjustment was aided by Flanagan’s way of making him feel like a part of the team from day one.

“It’s a family right when you get on campus,” Thompson said. “Joey has been a huge part of that. Speaking for myself, he really made me feel like a part of the team right away. Just a great kid and a great player.”

Junior guard Brendan Till said Flanagan can do it all.

“He can score the ball, he’s really athletic, he’s a capable defender and he’s just a really unselfish player and a great teammate,” Till said. “He doesn’t care about his individual stats. He’s more worried about the team and winning games.”

Last season, Flanagan was a consistent starter for the Bombers, making 16 starts through 24 games. However, he came off the bench for the first seven games of this season.

For most players, this is a cause for being upset, but Flanagan said he was just happy with the team’s start to the season.

“It’s definitely tough, but I’ll take a great team start over a great personal start any day,” Flanagan said. “We always try to keep the team first and the individual last, so I’m just going to trust the team and everything will come together.”

Assistant Sports Editor Caitie Ihrig contributed reporting.