Coming off a disappointing season, the experience gained by the youth bunch of Fightin’ Quakers a year ago will benefit the Wilmington College men’s basketball program in 2016-17.
Despite returning three starters and seven letterwinners, the complexion of the team is not the same from a season ago.
“They are two completely different teams,” said Wilmington head coach K.C. Hunt. “We went into last season with one and a half guys with actual game experience. We are thankful, although still young, to be in the position where we are significantly more prepared to compete at the level we want to compete in.
“We obviously have a history of competing at a real high level as we have averaged 15 wins every year I have been here, so what happened last year was unacceptable,” Hunt continued. “That was something that was in the past that we had to go through as a group, and I think we learned a lot from it; I expect us to be really competitive.”
Wilmington College will begin its season 8 p.m. tonight at Hermann Court’s Fred Raizk Arena against Mount St. Joseph University.
The Lions, an NCAA Div. III qualifier last season, was picked to win the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference championship in a pre-season poll of league coaches.
Junior Christian Jones (Hamilton, OH/Hamilton) is ready to take the next step in his development. After assuming the lead perimeter scorer role, Jones is surrounded by a more experience cast of characters which should aid his growth as a player.
Christian Jones reached double figures 16 times last season in finishing second on the team in scoring with 13.5 points. He scored at least 20 points five times, including in all three of the final games. The lanky guard connected on a three-pointer in 20 of the 24 games.
After taking the primary point guard duties in January, junior D.J. Iles (Fayetteville, OH/Fayetteville Perry) had his scoring production nearly doubled. In the first eight games, he averaged 6.6 points, and 10.7 points during the rest of the season.
While his scoring went up, his assists went down. He averaged 4.5 assists in the first eight, and 2.8 for the rest of the year. Iles finished with 9.3 points, 3.6 assists and 1.9 rebounds.
Depth in the backcourt will not be a problem this season as junior Jordan Jones (Dayton, OH/Thurgood Marshall), sophomore Will Patrick (Chester, PA/Pickerington Central (OH)) and sophomore Kevin Lewis (Cincinnati, OH/Clark Montessori) all gained valuable experience for the Fightin’ Quakers.
Jordan Jones has the most experience of the trio, playing in 39 career games with two starts. Both starts came his freshman season as he didn’t return to Wilmington until the second semester of his second season. He is averaging 12.6 minutes and 3.3 points in his career.
Patrick played in all 24 games last season with eight starts, averaging 17.4 minutes and 5.4 pints and 2.2 boards, while Lewis averaged 5.7 points and 16.7 minutes in his nine games.
Freshmen Payton Smith (Cincinnati, OH/Purcell Marian), William Green (Fairfield, OH/Roger Bacon), William Hansford (Cleveland, OH/Richmond Heights) and Darius Dunson (Kettering, OH/Fairmont) will all have the opportunity to crack Wilmington’s deep rotation.
Wilmington’s lack of height could be a problem for a team that was beaten on the glass by an average of 11 boards a season ago, and lost its leading rebounder.
Senior Malcolm Pittman (Huber Heights, OH/Wayne) will provide some bulk on the inside, while sophomores Andrew Russell (Columbus, OH/Central Crossing ) and Jordan Hecker (Delaware, OH/Rutherford B. Hayes) will bring some length and athleticism to the forward position.
Russell started all 22 games he played, averaging 7.7 points and 2.8 boards in 21.7 minutes. Pittman appeared in all 24 games, averaging 8.3 minutes, 3.2 points and 2.3 boards, while Hecker averaged 15.6 minutes in nine games with 4.4 points and 3.4 rebounds.
However, rebounding will have to be a collective effort by all five members on the court.
“I think this team will go as far as we can defend and rebound,” said Hunt. “We have the ability to put the ball in the basket with several different options and weapons. Our growth has to come with the ability to complete possessions with a defensive stop with a defensive rebound.
“Rebounding needs to be a team mentality where we all have a stake in the game,” Hunt continued. “It’s not just our bigs; every one on the court and all 20 of us. We need to do whatever it takes to end the possession with a defensive rebound.”
While undersized, junior Nathan Scott (Sardinia, OH/Eastern) will be able to stretch the defenses and battle defensively on the blocks. Scott finished the season averaging 3.6 points and 2.4 rebounds while playing in 23 of the team’s 24 games with one start.
Freshman Noah Chatman (Goodlottsville, TN/Beech) and freshman Jacob Strieter (Huntington, WVa./St. Joseph’s) will also bring some size to the front line, while sophomore Julian Harris (Dayton, OH/West Carrollton), freshman Trent Gilmore (Howard, OH/East Knox) and freshman Michael Frye (Columbus, OH/Harvest Prep) will bring some additional athleticism.