Flint is navigating uncharted waters | The Triangle

Flint is navigating uncharted waters

James "Bruiser" Flint eyes the court in Drexel's win over Southern Mississippi on Nov. 30. (Ken Chaney - The Triangle)
James “Bruiser” Flint eyes the court in Drexel’s win over Southern Mississippi on Nov. 30. (Ken Chaney – The Triangle)
James “Bruiser” Flint said he’s never experienced anything like this.

The Drexel University men’s basketball team has lost six straight games, just the second time in Flint’s 14 years that he has lost six times in a row. The last occurrence came in early 2008. The Dragons went 12-20 that season, the worst record in Flint’s career to this point.

After the team’s Jan. 3 loss to Elon University, the Dragons sit at 2-10, and 0-1 in conference play. To beat that rough 20-loss season, they’ll have to go 10-7 over the rest of the season, a feat that, as it stands today, seems unlikely at best.

Flint has lost games. He’s dealt with losing streaks. But he’s never, he said, experienced anything like this.

Drexel has lost five separate players to mild or serious injuries this season. It began in April, when the school announced that starting forward Kazembe Abif would miss the entire season with a torn ACL. It worsened in October when starting point guard Major Canady was lost with a broken foot.

Freshman forward Austin Williams continued the parade to the trainer’s room before the second game of the regular season, missing four weeks with a foot injury. Williams has returned to action.

Before the Dragons’ Dec. 28 loss to Iona, the team announced that forward Sooren Derboghosian would be out indefinitely with a knee injury. Afterwards it was announced that starting forward Rodney Williams would also be out indefinitely with a stress fracture. Neither player has returned, nor are they expected to return any time soon.

Flint lost starting guard Chris Fouch to a broken ankle in November of 2012, and he lost guard Damion Lee to a torn ACL in November of 2013.

But he’s never, he said with a slight shake of his head as he sat in the team’s media room after the sixth straight defeat, dealt with anything like this.

“This is tough right now,” Flint admitted. He admitted it in the most honest sense of the word. Flint has refused to use injuries as an excuse for his team’s poor play; he is a man full of pride, one that will work his available players into his system and believe his team has a chance to win any game.

But as he tests uncharted waters — truly turbulent waters, with a host of teams that are sharks chomping at the bit to take on the depleted Dragons and pad their winning percentages — he can’t seem to find a winning recipe. Things have gone from bad to worse, from worse to bleak.

“We’ve gone through some real difficulties,” Flint said. “We’ve gone through some things I’ve never gone through.”

Whatever it is that’s haunting the Daskalakis Athletic Center and its tenants, it has hit Flint’s veteran core the hardest. The Dragons brought in four freshmen this season, but with the exception of Austin Williams’ four-week injury, the young guns have remained largely intact and able to contribute.

Where Flint’s squad is suffering is up the ranks, in the higher reaches of his weapons. Abif was primed for a breakout season, coming off extended rest at the end of the 2013-14 season because of a wrist injury. A rebounding machine and physical powerhouse, he was slated to lineup next to sophomore Rodney Williams. Williams was supposed to break out in his own right, ready to slide into Drexel’s long-vacant offensive forward slot. Instead, the two are now sidelined.

The Dragons have eight viable players at this point in the season: four freshmen, one sophomore, two juniors and one senior. That’s five players with less than two years of experience, four of whom are just 12 games into their careers at Drexel.

Flint thinks the youth is hurting his team in pressure situations. Logic and evidence both make compelling cases as well.

“A little bit of it is, with youth, those guys still think they’re in high school at times, and they think, well, I’m just going to go down and make a play,” Flint said. “You’re not at that level anymore. Those days are over. That’s one of the things that hurt us a little bit.

“Plus, honestly, towards the end of the game we get tired because we don’t have that many guys. So you’ve got to keep it up. If we had all juniors and seniors, we’d be fine. They can handle it. We’ve got freshmen.”

Flint said he hopes his young players can continue to work and get better as the season goes along, and there’s already been evidence of growth from freshmen guards Rashann London and Sammy Mojica, Jr.

London, the de facto starting point guard once Canady went down with his foot injury in October, has proven to be an excellent third scoring option for the Dragons. However, Flint said after the loss to Elon that he needs the freshman to improve his defense, something that veteran players have better experience with.

“I never worry about [London’s] offense,” Flint said. “His defense is horrible. He’s a big reason why we break down defensively. I hate to say it.

“We’ve got eight players. We have a real small margin of error on this team right now. So guys have got to understand what that’s about.”

Flint stopped for a second and gathered his thoughts.

“But he’s a freshman,” he admitted, relenting. Right now, half of his team is composed of freshmen. This team is young, this team is growing and right now this team is not very good.

Flint said he, as a coach, doesn’t want to change what he’s doing in his role as the Dragons search for answers.

“You’ve got to keep guys focused, keep them ready to go,” he explained. “We’ve got another game coming up. It’s not like I can change our lineup up and start switching things around. We’ve got eight players.

“You’ve just got to get guys ready.”

But later in the press conference, Flint showed his hand, if only for a few seconds, in admitting that maybe he isn’t just thinking about the next game, the next grating test in this grind of a wrecked season.

“This is going to be about the long haul,” Flint said, a seemingly innocuous sentence in the middle of an answer about his dealing with losing streaks.

With four players currently sidelined with injuries, two unable to return until next season, and a young team struggling to find its way in a league stacked with talent flat-out better than his current weapons, Flint might be looking at this season as a lost cause and a chance to develop his younger players.

This could lead to more losses. This could lead to the worst season in his career. This could lead to questions about his job security, the whispers around social media turning into an echo chamber by the time February is out.

But then, it’s almost hard to blame him for taking that approach. When you head into uncharted waters, sometimes you have to look at things from a different perspective.