Cornerstone University men’s basketball opens season like none other this weekend

Kim Elders has been coaching Cornerstone University men’s basketball for 31 years, and he has never had to prepare for a season like this.

The Golden Eagles have plenty of reason for optimism because they return their top seven scorers. But tipping off a season filled with uncertainty due to the coronavirus pandemic has been stressful for the program.

“We have been moving forward like it is going to happen. The season is happening,” Elders said. “Some programs have had to shut down through January and others for the season. The players, I’m sure it is in the back of their minds, especially the seniors who want to go out with a bang.

“But it is something we coaches and the administration are dealing with every day. There is a postponement here and a postponement there, a team had to drop out of your tournament, and you have to find another team. It seems like every day we are dealing with this one way or another.

“Our athletic department, led by Aaron Sagraves, has done a terrific job keeping us abreast and doing the things we need to do to make this season happen for us. I applaud our administration for how they are handling this.”

The Golden Eagles are participating in the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference/Crossroads League Challenge this weekend at Indiana Wesleyan in Marion, Ind., beginning with Friday’s game against the home team, which has won three NAIA national championships in the past six years. Cornerstone will continue Saturday versus Spring Arbor. The Golden Eagles will then host its Cornerstone Classic next weekend, taking on Saint Xavier University of Illinois on Nov. 6 and Indiana University East on Nov. 7.

Cornerstone players will not wear masks during games unless the competition requires them to do so. However, the Golden Eagles will keep masks around their necks and slip them up during breaks.

“We will bring them (the masks) up every time we come together,” Elders said. “We will play that way, too, this weekend. Some teams will require that we wear masks when we play them. That’s going to be a big issue because we are not used to wearing masks. There is a lot of documentation that wearing masks does more harm than good because of the stress that it puts on breathing and the energy that is exerted. But there are some schools that are going to require it, so we will have to face it down the road.”

Cornerstone has been selected to finish second overall in the WHAC preseason poll behind Indiana Tech after finishing 20-12 overall a year ago, including 12-8 in the conference. The Golden Eagles have a strong West Michigan connection, featuring Riley Costen of Hudsonville, Christian Rodriguez of Godwin Heights and Tyler Baker of NorthPointe Christian. Rodriguez led the Golden Eagles in scoring a year ago, averaging 15 points a game, while Baker’s 13.2 points per game were second on the team.

“We return a lot of players. We only graduated one,” Elders said. “Riley Costen sat out last year with an injury and he is back. He is one of the best defenders in the country and he makes us so much better on both ends of the court. Christian Rodriguez is an All-American point guard who’s coming back. Kyler Baker is our shooting guard. They are three local kids we are counting on big for this year.”

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