ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ERIC CLARK
For 20 years, Don Brubacher, Tabor men’s basketball coach, has been evaluating his team’s talent in one fashion or another.
After a three-year hiatus from the head coaching position, Brubacher returned in 1999 with the intention of handing the reigns over to his assistant at the time, Jeff Luster.
Luster was appointed head coach after last season, then resigned and accepted a position at the University of Colorado as the director of basketball operations.
Once again, the coaching position gravitated back to Brubacher, who is the winningest coach in Tabor basketball history.
After leading his team to the NAIA tournament last season, Brubacher and company will look to make another trip in late March to Lookout Point, Mo., for the 2001-02 tournament.
“I think there are a lot of teams in the country that, if they play absolutely up to the peak of their capabilities, and they are very intelligent and sound fundamentally, I think they can challenge for a national championship,” Brubacher said. “I think we fall into that category. It’s just not an easy thing to make happen.”
This weekend the Bluejays will get their first test against Northwestern College, the NAIA defending national champion, at North- western’s preseason tournament in Orange City, Iowa.
In anticipation of the KCAC season, Brubacher finds early non-conference games perplexing.
“It’s a challenge to find the proper balance,” Brubacher said. “We don’t want to give away games early to prepare for the conference games, and yet each game is important to us, especially if you are hoping to put yourself in position for a national ranking.”
With the Jays’ leading returning scorer, Micah Ratzlaff, out for three weeks because of bone spurs, Brubacher will be mixing his lineups in an effort to develop the team’s chemistry.
“We’ve had a little bit of a struggle at the start of the year,” Brubacher said. “Practices have gone well, but we haven’t had our team on the court yet and we won’t for a couple of weeks. It’s just difficult to have a clear picture of our group for the year, under the circumstances.”
With Micah Ratzlaff out for a spell, and his younger brother, Tyson, a contributor last season as a freshman, still playing football, Tabor will count on those who are healthy and available to play this weekend and in the weeks to come.
Jimmy Janzen, Ernest Nortey and Lance Redetzke, all seniors, return to the Bluejays for their last season.
Janzen, a forward and a Hillsboro native, averaged 4.35 points and 1.85 rebounds per game for the Jays.
The Bluejays will get some help from its combo from the north in Nortey and Redetzke.
Nortey, a 6-5 forward from Winnipeg, Man., averaged 8.67 points and 4.3 rebounds per game.
Redetzke, a Barnum, Minn., native and center for the Bluejays, averaged 8.03 points and 2.9 rebounds last season.
Brubacher believes Tabor’s style of play will compensate for the initial absence of some of his players and will give others the opportunity to develop early in the year.
“We run a style of offense that is an equal-opportunity offense,” Brubacher said. “That also means that players with more capabilities have more opportunities. We don’t talk about supporting roles and lead roles-and we won’t.
“We just work really hard on executing the game and the players who have a little bit more ability will have more opportunities.
“We will not run a system that is geared toward one player-we didn’t last year with Micah or Kevin (Koehn) and we won’t again this year with Micah.”
Jeremiah Randall, a 6-5 guard/ forward was brought in to help fill the void left by the graduation of last season’s second-leading scorer, Kevin Koehn.
Randall is a transfer from Seward County Community College and will fit into the flow of the Tabor system, according to Brubacher.
“He fits our system real well,” Brubacher said. “He’s very skilled, he shoots the ball well, he’s a good athlete and he’s an intelligent player. The things we do on the court work well for him.”
In addition to Randall, newcomers include Dane Little, a 5-11 guard from Meade, and Grant Brubacher, a 5-10 point guard from Hillsboro who happens to be Brubacher’s son.
“Dane is a very good basketball player, and has practiced very well,” Brubacher said. “We know Grant can compete on this level. We expect Dane and Grant to be our strongest freshmen.”
Depth, balance, athleticism and physical strength should help bolster the Bluejays according to Brubacher.
“Our two and three men will be bigger than most of the teams we face,” Brubacher said. “The speed and quickness is a very significant factor in a half-court game, and we have to learn how to take advantage of it offensively and defensively in a half-court game and in full-court situations.
“We’ll put 10 different guys on the court who can all score. There will be no one who steps on the court that the other team can ignore.”
The Bluejays will face Northwestern College on Friday and St. Ambrose College on Saturday in the two-day classic.