Bluejay men adjusting to new faces on the court

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ANDREW OTTOSON
The 2006-07 Tabor College men’s basketball team: back row (from left), assistant coaches Micah Ratzlaff and Anthony Monson, DaQuon Anderson, Aaron Schmucker, Brent Nelsen, Mike Stoeker, Donald Dowl, Toby Berg, Steven Chisholm, Kory Faul, Caleb Good, Kyle Pohl, head coach Don Brubacher; front row: Ryan Watson, Dustin Burnett, Eric Weinbrenner, Mike Willis, Tyler Weinbrenner, Greg Munroe, Andy Brubacher, Casey Hillman, Kyle Kroeker, Brad Kiser, Nathaniel Porter.

With the graduation of eight seniors, the Tabor College men’s basketball team will have to get a lot of mileage out of a trio of guards who have experience playing in coach Don Brubacher’s system.

Grant Brubacher, Brad Gattis, Matt Nelson, Jered Reese and Pat Miller are gone, and 41.6 points per game went with them.

In addition to the ordinary annual shuffling that every team goes through, this year’s has dealt with more unexpected turnover than usual.

“We had a large number of our squad from last year who decided not to come back to Tabor, and we had a couple guys come back who decided not to play,” Brubacher said.

With 15 non-graduation departures to contend with, this team may have a little less depth than expected and a little more uncertainty about its capabilities.

“We don’t know how good we can be yet. We always have the goal of finishing at the top of the conference,” coach Brubacher said.

If one thing is certain, it is that Brubacher’s team will cultivate a disciplined and intense approach. “We want our players to set an example for work ethic and focus. We want them to set a good example by how they execute the game.”

The team will look for returning seniors Andy Brubacher and Tyler Weinbrenner to demonstrate that ethic in addition to raising their level of play at both ends of the court.

“Andy and Tyler are very important to us because they’re the two returners who have a lot of experience in the program,” Brubacher said.

“So they’re not only leaned on heavily for their play, but they’re also leaned on a great deal to help us teach our game to the new guys.”

Four of the new guys are top-notch transfers who will be asked to bring big-time contributions in line with the TC style of play.

Greg Munroe is a 6-foot, 7-inch senior transfer and a power forward who will be, said Brubacher, “an important part of the team because of his athleticism.

“He has some height, some length and has the capability of being a very good rebounder.”

Munroe’s presence around the basket will be of tremendous value for a team whose style requires reliable rebounding.

“That cost us so many games last year because we rebounded so poorly,” Brubacher said. “We’re trying to place a priority on that this year because it is something we haven’t done particularly well in recent years.”

Donald Dowl, a 6-8 junior transfer is another interior presence, and is “very important to us as a pure center.”

Mike Stoeker, a 6-5 junior, provides a third option down low, but has been limited by both a hand injury and foul trouble in the early going.

“(Stoeker) is very important as a versatile guy who can play inside-outside for us and can play (at the power forward and center positions) and out on the perimeter some,” Brubacher said.

Junior transfer Mike Willis will play small forward.

Brubacher said, “He is a big-6-3 or 6-4-guard, very strong physically, so he fills a need for us at the wing position for a bigger, more physical player.”

After splitting wins and losses evenly in 2005-06, the team was picked fifth by the coaches of the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference in the pre-season poll.

Eric Weinbrenner, Casey Hillman, Caleb Good, Dustin Burnett and Kyle Kroeker provide depth at the guard position. Of that group, however, only Weinbrenner saw game action last season.

“(Eric) played somewhat limited time last year as a freshman and will certainly play more this year, but (Eric is) a returner who has game experience,” Brubacher said. “He is certainly significant for us.”

Hillman may be also be able to help the Bluejays quickly-he was with the team two years ago and seems to be getting back into the mix despite the time off.

For front-court depth, the Bluejays will turn to Steven Chisholm, but will also have Kory Faul, Brent Nelson and Tobias Berg available.

“It appears that (Chisholm) is going to have game time at the four and five spots for us,” Brubacher said. “

According to the coach, five players will split time between the varsity and JV squads this season.

“(Burnett, Kroeker, Berg, Faul and Nelson) will be going back and forth to some extent. Burnett and Kroeker are working almost exclusively with the varsity team and have done very well. They are certainly options for playing time.”

During non-conference play, the team has gone 2-5, but might get a lift heading into KCAC play now that football season is over.

Shaiphan Lewis and DeJaun Jones are going through the process of joining the team.

“At this point we’re not a very deep team, and we’re trying to find ways to improve our depth, and hopefully we can do that as the year goes on,” Brubacher said.

“But it’s hard when you start late. At this point, what we have to work hardest at is understanding the offensive and defensive systems, and remembering them well enough that we can execute them with speed.

“We have players with very specific strengths and some weaknesses that we have to try to work around, but we really haven’t scratched the surface with that yet.

“We’ll have to as the season goes along because good teams play to the strengths of individual players and good teams find a way to negate or eliminate the weaknesses of individual players.

“But we have hardly even started that at this point because we’re still trying to develop a basic understanding of our systems.”

So the 2006-07 season outlook presents a view of the TC men’s basketball team that begins with growth and learning, but also anticipates that, if this collection of players progresses toward becoming a cohesive unit, there is plenty to be excited about.

“We’ll determine as we go along what the capabilities of this team are, and to a large extent, that will be determined by how Andy and Tyler play,” Brubacher said.

“We’ll bring a very team-oriented style of play to a sport that has become very individualistic in this country. We need Andy and Tyler to model our expectations for team play.”

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