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The Knox Student

Student Read, Student Written, Student Led Since 1878

The Knox Student

Student Read, Student Written, Student Led Since 1878

The Knox Student

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‘Something is different this year’: Scars of the past motivate Knox Men’s Basketball

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Senior guard Malcolm Bray drives on teammate Matthew Garife, junior, during a Knox College practice. (Robert Nguyen / TKS)

After a tumultuous freshman season, the men’s basketball team uses the missteps from that year as fuel for the upcoming season.

The 2018-19 season serves as a starting point for the reconstruction of the Knox men’s basketball program. After a 1-24 season, Ben Davis was brought in as head coach on a team full of Knox newcomers.

Three freshmen (guard Jaelon Brooks, guard Malcolm Bray, and guard Jordan Rayner) were among the top seven in total minutes played that year. Before the season’s third game, two seniors both quit, leaving a majority freshman team to fend for themselves. 

Knox’s record improved to 9-16 during the 2019-2020 season. Not quite an impressive record, but a step in the right direction. 

Then, the pandemic wiped away the 2020-21 season. As the current seniors enter their last season, they view this season as their chance to exorcise the demons from their freshman year. 

“I haven’t had this feeling since my senior year of high school,” leading scorer Jordan Rayner said. 

That feeling he’s referring to is a winning feeling. Rayner attended Chaminade College Preparatory School in St. Louis. If you’re a basketball fan, you know the school. Since 2010, the school has churned out pros such as Boston Celtics All-Star forward Jayson Tatum, Washington Wizards All-Star Bradley Beal, and Chicago Bulls forward Tyler Cook.

Rayner knows the significance of what that 2018 Chaminade team accomplished — a loss in the state final to Webster Groves — but he isn’t shying away from helping his team live up to that winning standard. 

“Something is different this year. I mean, we’ve been working towards this for a long time,” Rayner said. “Personally, it’s been a grind, but I’m just trying to lead us to a championship this year.”

Rayner’s work ethic is lauded by Malcolm Bray. Rayner’s grind sets the tone for the rest of the team.

“I think we did a really good job as juniors preparing the sophomore class to lead when we leave,” Bray said. “They work out, do extra lifts, you know, a lot like Jordan. Jordan is one of the main grinders on our team.”

Bray, who started 21 of the 24 games during the tumultuous 2018-2019 season, wrestled with the decision of leaving versus staying. Bray contemplated a transfer back home to California or even to conference rival Lake Forest, who recruited him out of high school. 

“Freshman year, after we lost both times to Lake Forest, obviously I wanted to leave,” Bray said. “I had a good relationship with coach Ken Davis, who’s now retired. With that feeling of uncertainty, I was thinking, ‘Do I want to go, or do I want to stay?'”

Bray ultimately stayed due to the kinship he formed amongst his teammates. 

“By being so close to these guys, like Isaiah [Lockett] and Jordan, that just really kind of keeps me from ever being like ‘I want to be done here,'” Bray said. 

Rayner had to work for playing time at Chaminade. Playing time wasn’t promised to him, and shot attempts weren’t guaranteed. He could have transferred to another high school, but he didn’t want to run from the adversity. The lessons that Rayner learned in high school convinced him to stay at Knox. 

“I think that I’ve learned that when you stick it out, usually you tend to reap better rewards,” Rayner said. “When you go through a season like that, on and off the court, you tend to develop some really strong relationships. You’re always connected with each other.”

Though there’s an abundance of seniors on the roster this year, it takes contributions from every player on the team to equate to a successful season. Bray and Rayner have stepped into leadership roles. Four years ago, the two had to learn by trial-and-error, and now they’re in a position to impart their wisdom onto the underclassmen. 

Head coach Ben Davis cited the summer of 2020 as an essential step in Rayner and Bray’s evolution as leaders. The two then-juniors were making phone calls to recruits who couldn’t visit campus. Rayner and Bray were there to serve as tour guides to the recruits, give them the Knox experience without physically being on campus. 

Knowing what the seniors went through is a massive part of the desire to have a great season. 

“A lot of my motivation as a coach is wanting those guys to have success,” Davis said. I’ve seen how hard they’ve worked, you know, for three of their four years here. I want to see them do well, you know, I want to see a payoff.’

Davis added some very high praise for Rayner, the Edwardsville native, saying that “he’s developed into the best leader I’ve ever coached.”

Rayner and Bray are different in their leadership styles. Bray is the talker out of the two. Bray tells the underclassman what they need to hear, and Rayner will lead by example. 

The seniors have played a role in turning around this program, but that’s not enough. Bray wants wins this season to assert that Knox basketball is here to compete.

“I’m ready for the conference games. I feel that we can beat any team in our conference this year,” Bray said. “The Midwest Conference is up for grabs, we just have to execute.”

The team now having six four-year seniors is a testament to their commitment and the culture built over the years. 

“You want to talk about a marathon, man. It’s cool to see us stick together because you don’t see that. We went through a lot of adversity together; we’ve seen a lot in our four years at Knox, on the court, and off the court,” Rayner said. 

“This year is kind of like a victory lap. Getting ready to have one last ride before we leave.”

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