AFTER two years at Winthrop College, Sanctuary Point product Kyle Zunic had a feeling his junior season was going to be special.
How special, only time would tell.
But to give himself the best chance of success, Zunic knew he had to change up his approach.
"My preparation was different [this season] by knowing what to expect coming in for the third year," Zunic said.
"Now being an upperclassman, I knew I'd have to be as ready as I could possibly be, to lead a bunch of new guys into a season that we had such high expectations for.
"Knowing this, it made me lock in so much more over the summer, so I could be as ready as possible for when that first tip went up in Hartford."
This preparation saw the former Sanctuary Point Public School student take strides in many aspects of his game.
"I personally had a decent season - I definitely I could have done better in a lot of areas, however, I think my leadership took a big step forward and I made sure to stay consistent with that throughout the year," he said.
"The season was very long and tough and I knew at some points that could take a toll on the younger guys, so I had to make sure that I didn't get my head down at any stage because they needed me to be a positive person - I believe I did that well.
"However, in terms of individual performance, I think there were some things I need to improve on and that is what I am looking to do this off-season and for next season with it being my last year."
While Zunic is his own harshest critic at times, his strong play didn't go unrecognised, as he was this year named on the Big South Conference All-Academic Team.
"That selection means a lot to me," he said.
"I take pride in all areas of my life and to be recognised for my schoolwork along with basketball, it was a great honour to receive that award.
"I put in a lot of hard work last season and to have it recognised, gave me a huge boost of confidence.
"It [the honour] is also a testament to the Winthrop staff because they helped me get through the year and get all my schoolwork done, even when I was busy with basketball."
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Zunic's play helped the Eagles to a 21-10 regular season record - the best during his tenure at Rock Hill.
"We were pretty happy to finish with the record that we did," he said.
"Obviously there were some games within those 10 losses we believed we should've won but we wouldn't change those games.
"In each of those losses, we learnt the most about ourselves and they made us the team we were at the end of the season.
"One game that stands out this season was the Saint Mary's game that we won - it was an unbelievable experience to win a game like that on the road, against the 18th ranked school in the nation."
This record qualified the Pat Kelsey coached Eagles for the Big South Conference Tournament, where they became just the 12th ever team from their school to win that championship - a goal Zunic had been working towards ever since he started at Winthrop.
"It was unbelievably special to get a Big South Conference Championship and something I've been working towards for three years," Zunic said.
"I've always wanted to get myself a ring and I thought to myself this is my second last chance to do this, so don't take anything for granted and make sure you leave it all out there.
"I definitely knew this group was special because everyone was so close.
"It was the tightest group I have been a part of and it showed - when things got tough, we would just stick together and move on to the next thing and try to fix it as one unit.
"This championship was the goal we had at the beginning of the season but it wasn't the end goal.
"It was an important part to getting us to the NCAA Tournament but we had a goal of advancing as far as we could during March Madness - I believe we had the team to do that this year.
"Obviously we can't control what is happening in the world right now but it was disappointing that we couldn't get the chance to go to that."
As Zunic alludes to, just after the Eagles had defeated Hampton 76-68 for the title and booked their spot in the NCAA Tournament, the coronavirus epidemic swept the globe - seeing the upcoming championships cancelled.
"I was unbelievably shattered, as were many others that earned the right to compete there," he said.
"It's something you dream about your whole life - for us to go through the whole season and our whole lives working towards that goal, it really hurt when it was taken away.
"But, I completely understand it because there is such a prolific problem in the world right now that needs to be fixed.
"I'm disappointed we didn't get a chance to show the world how good of a team we were."
After this cancellation, Zunic made the decision to return home to his family on the South Coast, to avoid the fast-spreading coronavirus in the United States.
"I kind of first heard about it [COVID-19] after we won the championship but at first, I didn't really think much of it because I didn't think it was a big deal," he said.
"Then after a couple of weeks, I realised it was just growing so rapidly, forcing me to pay more attention to it.
"There wasn't really much done in South Carolina when I was there because it was in such early stages of the virus but they just wanted everyone to be aware of the situation and have the facts.
"At this time, it still didn't feel real and I couldn't believe what was happening - it quickly became quite hectic.
"But I feel like they [the US] were handling it well over there and taking the right precautions.
"However, as we've seen, they've taken a big leap in cases over the last week or so.
"Hopefully they are able to get it under control and limit the number of people with it."
But Zunic and his teammates are going to dwell on things they can't change, rather use this as motivation next year.
"We know most people coming back next year and realise we have a strong chance to be back in that position [for the NCAA Tournament]," he said.
"Obviously losing Hunter Hale and Josh Ferguson will be huge losses because they were such big factors in the team.
"But having a veteran group next year, that know what is expected, will be a great starting point.
"And then the two new guys we have coming in as freshman will be great fits to our team, as they both seem like guys that will fit into our culture.
"As such, I do feel like there is a big motivation for us to get back there and it's great that all of us have the same mindset going into the off-season and into next year."
Zunic, who is still in self-quarantine, plans to make the most of his extra time at home, ahead of his final year at Winthrop.
"I plan to continue working on my body as much as I can and to improve my ball skills and shooting," he said.
"I feel as though I will be trusted with the ball a lot next year, so I just want to keep that in check and make sure I am ready for any role.
"I've shot decently in my three years at Winthrop, however, there is always room for improvement and I believe that it's one area I can improve the most.
"It comes with having confidence in my shooting, that I've worked so hard at my whole life - I just need to go out there and trust it.
"Working hard this off-season will give me that confidence to shoot the ball and attack aggressively next year.
"I also just want to get my mind right for this season.
"Making sure I am not putting any pressure on myself and I just play with ultimate confidence and with a clear mind.
"I need to stay in the present and not look too far into the future - focusing on the task at hand which is getting better each day during my senior season."
As well as qualifying for the big dance next season, the 21-year-old has other goals for his senior campaign.
"My goals for my senior year are first of all to win the Big South championship again but also advance in the NCAA Tournament," he said.
"Individually I would love to be the best leader I can be and make sure I'm doing my job for the team on the court - shooting the ball, taking control of the game and making sure everyone has a clear mind.
"Obviously you always want to make those all conference teams, so that is an individual goal of mine, but if the team and I play well, those will take care of themselves."