MOUNT PLEASANT – It may still be October, but the Iowa Wesleyan College men’s basketball team is going to get an early start on reloading as it opens its 2009-10 season on Friday at the Grace (Neb.) University Classic in Omaha.
The Tigers open their schedule against Dana (Neb.) College at 6 p.m. on Friday on the first day of the Grace tourney. IWC then will face the host Royals on Saturday at 4 p.m. to conclude the weekend.
The Tigers will face a tall task in duplicating last year’s run, which included a 20-11 record, a Midwest Collegiate Conference Tournament championship and a trip to the NAIA Division II National Tournament. All five starters from last year’s team will need to be replaced for Head Coach Alan Magnani, entering his 14th season.
Four senior starters are gone from the team, including three-time All-American Brett Humpal and two more (Da’kari Shelby and Jason Garber) who received All-MCC recognition. As if that wasn’t enough, the lone returning starter, Keenan Stanbridge (Sr.-Quincy, Ill.), another Honorable Mention All-MCC player, tore knee ligaments in the summer and will redshirt this year.
Guards Michael Coons and Josh Hogue and center Matt Lafrenz also are departed, and in all just three players return who played on last year’s team, players who started a combined 13 games. The leading returning scorer is Jared Callanan (Sr.-Bennington, Vt.), who averaged 6.7 points per game last season, and in all IWC lost over 86% of its scoring and 83% of its rebounding from 2008-09.
This year’s Wesleyan team features an interesting mix of players from a number of backgrounds. Included in a guard-heavy roster are three returnees, two returning redshirts, a transfer from a conference rival, several junior college transfers, and five freshmen, including two from high schools in southeast Iowa.
Callanan and Patrick Macki (Sr.-London, England) are the two lone returnees in the backcourt. Callanan shot 39.3% on three-pointers last year to rank among the MCC leaders in that category, and he will have the green light to shoot even more this year with a larger share of the minutes. Macki started seven games last year at point guard and averaged 2.9 points and one assist per game.
The third returnee is 6-5 senior Mike Lowe (Panora, Iowa), who started five games last year and averaged 1.6 points and 1.4 rebounds per game. Also returning to the program are a pair of redshirts, 6-5 freshman Blake Smith (Sydney, Australia) and 6-5 junior college transfer Weldon Miller (San Rafael, Calif.). Together the three will be counted on heavily in the frontcourt, as they are the only players on the Wesleyan roster who stand taller than 6-3.
The rest of the roster is loaded with guards. One most interesting prospect is 6-1 junior Reggie Shipp (Aurora, Ill.), who comes to IWC from MCC rival St. Ambrose University. Shipp started 22 games for the Fighting Bees last year, tied for the team lead in minutes played (30.9 mpg) and averaged 9.6 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game. Shipp lit up the Tigers several times in the past two years, including 18 points last year in SAU’s 83-81 overtime win over Wesleyan.
Another transfer is 6-0 junior Gary Rademaker (Emden, Ill.), who will see action at point guard. Rademaker is a transfer from Carl Sandburg (Ill.) College and followed the same path to IWC as Garber, who also is from Emden and played at Carl Sandburg.
The freshman class is led by 6-2 guard Brett Azinger (Montrose, Iowa), who comes to the program after a stellar career at Central Lee High School just down the road in Donnellson. Azinger led the Hawks to their first-ever state tournament appearance last year and was second team all-state last year, averaging nearly 20 points and six rebounds per game.
Along with Azinger, another area freshman is 6-2 Josh Beaird (Keokuk, Iowa), who comes from Keokuk High School, where he was Second Team All-Southeast Conference last year while averaging 12 points and three assists per game for the Chiefs. Rounding out the active roster for this year are three more freshman guards, 6-3 Dan Missey (Pacific, Mo.), 5-11 Austin Burns (Belvidere, Ill.) and 5-11 Jamal Blackmond (Aurora, Ill.).
With the heavy number of guards on the roster there is little doubt this year’s team will be guard-oriented. The Tigers will go with a number of three- and four-guard lineups and it’s very possible the team could break the school record of 750 three-point attempts established last year. The lack of frontcourt depth is also going to make it imperative that the Wesleyan big men are able to stay on the court and out of foul trouble.
Last year the Tigers finished with a sterling run of 12 wins in 13 games, including a dramatic 91-90 win over Grand View University in the MCC Tournament final, before losing to powerful Oregon Tech in the national tourney. Grand View is a heavy favorite in the MCC this year and enters the season ranked #8 in the initial NAIA Division II top 25 coaches’ poll.
Based on the preseason poll of conference coaches, little is expected of the Tigers this year after such heavy losses from last year. After finishing second in the MCC in the regular season with a 13-3 mark last year, IWC was picked seventh in this year’s conference preseason poll, ahead of only Waldorf College and Clarke College in the standings.
Wesleyan will play its first five games on the road before its home opener against Midland Lutheran (Neb.) College on Nov. 17 at 7 p.m. at Ruble Arena.