With winter comes UP basketball

By The Beacon | November 4, 2010 9:00pm

New, younger men’s basketball team looks to take season one game at a time

Senior Luke Sikma and Freshman Ryan Nicholas face off during a scrimmage during practice in Chiles Center. The Pilots’ first game is an exhibition match versus Concordia this Sunday. (Kevin Kadooka -- The Beacon)

By Bruce Garlinghouse, Staff Writer -- garlingh13@up.edu

As the cold and rain of winter approaches, there is one bright spot: another season of Pilot Basketball.

The Pilots return after a quick exit in the CIT (CollegeInsider.com Tournament) ended their postseason hopes. Senior forward Luke Sikma said that their loss in the first round to Northern Colorado still stings a bit, but the team is going to use it as motivation.

"Disappointment can be used as motivation, and we've been using it that way during the offseason," Sikma said.

Last year's team had its best season in years, cracking the top 25 for the first time in 50 years, tallying the most wins the program has seen as a Division 1 program, and matched its best WCC record of 10-4. However, this year's team will be playing with less experience, after bidding farewell to T.J. Campbell, Nick Ravio and Robin Smeulders.

Experience was a key factor in the Pilots' success last year. Being a defense-oriented team that had all juniors and seniors in the starting lineup will cause some issues for the Pilots, especially later in games when help is needed from the bench.

Sikma says that the loss of those guys won't change the way they approach the game.

The Pilots were ranked first in scoring defense and rebounding offense in the WCC, keeping their opponents to an average of 66.2 points per game and gathering 983 rebounds on defense.

Sikma said that while they lost a lot of experience, they also have several players returning who have a lot of game experience, including himself, Stohl, and senior centers Kramer Knutson and Jasonn Hannibal.

"The guys returning from last year are going to have to step out of that secondary role position they played last year to a primary position this year," Sikma said. "I think it comes naturally."

Despite the return of Stohl, Knutson and Sikma, the Pilots will still have to rely heavily on their younger teammates. The departure of T.J. Campbell left a void in the guard position that is up for grabs.

Freshman Tim Douglas or sophomore junior college transfer Derrick Rodgers could both step into Campbell's shoes. Douglas is a quick, athletic guard who resembles Campbell, but Rodgers brings a year of collegiate experience.

On the offensive end, the Pilots relied on team-oriented offense, grounded-in set plays and heavy paint play, complemented by stellar outside shooting by senior Jared Stohl. Stohl was ranked first in 3-point percentage in the NCAA last year and was selected for the Preseason All-WCC Team.

With the addition of players like freshman Korey Thieleke, this year's team possesses a more athletic threat, which may allow for more isolations and could open up the floor for the Pilots. Thieleke is a long, athletic guard, who, at 6' 4", could create matchup problems for opponents on both the offensive and defensive end.

Even with these additions, Sikma says that, offensively, nothing will change.

"We just want the young guys to do what they do best and to do that within the offense," Sikma said.

Despite finishing third in the WCC last season, the Pilots are ranked fifth in preseason polls. This isn't too shocking, considering the players who left and the lack of experience on the team.

Sikma said the ranking hasn't had any effect on the team.

"You can't pay attention to it. When it comes down to it, it's all about delivering wins," Sikma said.

Nothing changed at the top of the list, with Gonzaga picked the preseason favorite, and St. Mary's at No. 2.

As it's been in recent years, it will be Gonzaga's conference championship to lose, and the rest of the field will compete to face the powerhouse in the conference championship come March.

Outside the conference schedule, the Pilots face their biggest challenge against the Kentucky Wildcats, one of the most accomplished basketball programs in the nation, at the Rose Garden on Nov. 19.

Despite losing five players to the NBA draft last season, including first round draft pick John Wall, the Wildcats can always be expected to remain full of talent.

Sikma said that while the game is in the back of everybody's mind, all their focus is on the season opener versus Concordia University on Sunday.

"We're going to play one game at a time," Sikma said. "It would definitely be a monumental win, but it wouldn't define our season."

Sikma said there haven't been any major adjustments made from last year's team.

"We're just going to try and get better every day," Sikma said.

Freshman Riley Barker practices his post move in preparation for the Pilots first game this Sunday. (Kevin Kadooka -- The Beacon)