It must be something in the Pensacola air.
The University of West Florida's athletic programs have had an outstanding 2021 thus far, and the men's basketball team is following suit.
Led by head coach Jeff Burkhamer, the Argos are 4-0 for the first time since the 2017-18 season, a year in which they won their first-ever Gulf South Conference Championship and made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history.
Since that history-making season, UWF has struggled through the following three campaigns, which included one impacted by the COVID pandemic. Now, the team seems to be back on track.
"I really like our depth, we've had a lot of guys help us win and be able to do different things," Burkhamer said. "We play different lineups. Sometimes we go 5-in, 5-out, sometimes we match-up for situational stuff. Just a lot of guys have come in and given us good minutes."
The Argos begun the season as road warriors, earning triumphs at Fort Valley State, Clark Atlanta and Tuskegee University.
UWF Basketball Preview: UWF basketball: Approaching the 2021-22 season, Argos are optimistic with shaken up roster
HS Girls Basketball Preview: Girls basketball preview: Navarre and Pine Forest returning dominant teams in 2021-22
Finally, the squad returned for their home-opener on Sunday, beating Albany State on a last-second layup by sophomore guard LaTrell Tate.
With six newcomers on this year's roster, the early gelling has been promising.
On the court, they have adjusted to one another's playing tendencies, and off the court, they enjoy each other's company. Burkhamer says the team has already bought into the coaches' vision.
"This group has gotten along terrifically," Burkhamer said. "They've practiced well together, they like each other. ... Its a good mix about half returners and half new guys, so its been fun coaching this group so far."
But the basketball season can become grueling. Late practices and 28 games throughout the chilly winter months can take a toll on a program's performance. You have to be built for the long run to sustain any meaningful success.
Burkhamer recognizes that this roster may have the chance to play some of those important games down the stretch, which is why him and his staff are already emphasizing the saying, 'grow through it while you go through it.'
"We are just trying to grow each day and get better. … So far we have found ways to win in tough environments and close games and that's what we are trying to build from," Burkhamer said. "Let's continue to get better throughout the year and play our best basketball in February."
As of now, things have gone to plan. The returning one-two punch of sophomore Daniel Sofield and junior Wendell Matthews has helped its first-year teammates familiarize with the system and play winning basketball.
Sofield, last year's leading scorer, has picked up where he left off. He's been lights out for 17.3 points per contest, shooting 3-pointers at a 41% clip. As an All-GSC Second-Team member last season, expectations were high for him again this year, and he's living up to them.
Matthews is averaging 12.3 points per game to compliment Sofield, but is also ripping down 7.8 rebounds a night. The 6-foot-6 wing out of Brooklyn Park, MN., had a 35-point scoring outburst last season, so his continued development has been nothing short of what the Argos were anticipating.
The rest of the team has fallen in line.
"Guys have done what we thought they could do and they've embraced the roles that they are in right now," Burkhamer said. "They've played to their strengths and understand their teammates strengths and playing towards those too."
The next chance to catch the Argos at the UWF Field House is at 3 p.m. Sunday when they host Georgia College out of Milledgeville, Ga..
Lucas Semb can be reached at Lsemb@pensacol.gannett.com or 850-281-7414. Follow him on Twitter at @Lucas_Semb for stories and various Pensacola area score updates.
This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: University of West Florida mens basketball begins the year at 4-0