TC Men’s Basketball Spotlight 2008

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Coach Micah Ratzlaff (back row, far right) and assistant Anthony Monson brought back the core of the Tabor College men?s basketball team that went 9-9 in conference play last year: back row (from left) J.C. Mitchell, Gavin Serene, Conner Hampton, Jeff Hussong, Jason Hett, Aaron Whitelaw, Jared Hett, Mike Rousell, Kyle Kroeker, Kyle de Blonk, Alex Sutter, Garrett Hamm, Monson, Ratzlaff; front row, A.J. Wiens, Jordan Funk, Orson Thomas, Kory Faul, Brent Nelsen, Zack Vanselow, Damon Dechant, Lance Baar, Micah Hiett, Seth Hardiman, Cameron Beckman.

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Damon Dechant skies for two points during Tabor?s Nov. 10 game against Haskell Indian Nations. The 6-foot-6 sophomore transfer has given a big boost in the post.

With its foundation built on the returning core of last year?s roster, the Tabor College men?s basketball team looks to hit the ground running when conference play begins Thursday at McPherson.

The Bluejays subtracted two seniors?Mike Stoecker and Caleb Good?and added 12 freshmen and two transfers.

Through seven non-conference games, during which Tabor has posted a 4-3 record, transfer forward Damon Dechant has led the team in rebounding. Dechant, who came to Hillsboro via Colorado State-Pueblo is also the Bluejays? second-leading scorer.

?Damon is a big-time player at our level,? Ratzlaff said. ?He?s had a couple of pre-season injuries that have hindered him, and he?s not quite in the shape we want him to be in. He can play inside and outside, and he?s one of our best defensive players.?

Freshman guard Seth Hardiman of Derby has also been effective in the early going, scoring 20 points and distributing seven assists over two games at the Sterling Classic Nov. 21-22.

?Seth is a unique point guard, with his ability to handle the ball, and he passes as well as anybody we have?he?s a true point guard, and he?s 6-2,? coach Micah Ratzlaff said.

?He?s going to have to figure out how to play defense?he knows that. Once he figures the defense out, he?ll be in the middle of everything because there?s no doubt he knows how to compete.?

In Ratzlaff?s second season in charge, the newcomers? successes have come within the confines of a system geared to make the most of the strengths of three single-season veterans: senior Aaron Whitelaw, junior Orson Thomas and senior Zack Vanselow.

All three arrived a year ago via transfer, and all three found immediate success in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference. All three received all-conference honors.

Whitelaw returns to run the offense from the point guard position, where he backs up his vocal leadership style with an explosive first step off the dribble and an accurate touch around the rim.

Entering the season last year, Ratzlaff said Whitelaw ?is a big-time athlete?the most athletic point guard in the conference, hands down, and I?d like to talk to any coach that says different.?

This year, Ratzlaff stands by his assessment.

?If Aaron plays with poise, he can be a first-team all-conference player,? Ratzlaff said. ?He has a chance to be as good as he wants to be, but he?s battled some injuries so far.?

Thomas, a first-team player last year, posted eight double-doubles and was selected conference ?Newcomer of the Year.?

?He is a big-time athlete, and he will play some guard-spot as well as some at forward-spot this year,? Ratzlaff said. ?He?s one of the better defenders in our league, and we?ll look for him to dominate the glass again.

?He wasn?t rebounding like we thought he would early on, but he?s put together a couple of good games now,? he added.

?We have got to be able to rebound, if we don?t rebound we will struggle this year. It has probably been the worst category for us as a team so far, but we?ll get there. I?m not worried about it.?

During conference play last season, Thomas ran off two eight-game streaks of double-digit point totals, and led the team in rebounding at both ends of the floor. He finished second in the conference in rebounding.

Vanselow finished second on the team to Thomas in rebounding, third on the team behind Whitelaw and Thomas in scoring, and led the conference with 2.1 shot blocks per game.

?Aaron and Zack are big for us. How they respond to tough times, how they bring the team along for us, is going to be very important,? Ratzlaff said. ?They?ve got a lot of responsibility, and we?ll see if they can handle it. I hope they can, and if they do, we will be extremely successful.?

Tabor?s senior class also includes sharpshooting guard Jared Hett and rugged forward Lance Baar, both of whom Ratzlaff expects to make substantial contributions on the court.

?Jared Hett has really, really been shooting the ball well this year,? Ratzlaff said. ?He?s been shooting the ball better than anybody on our team, and we?re trying to get him more shot attempts.?

Baar is still growing into the role Ratzlaff sees for him.

?Lance has struggled a little bit,? he said. ?I think he?ll be able to help us when conference play gets going. It?s a matter of him deciding whether he wants to be a basketball player or not.

?He has all the skills, but he doesn?t have a lot of experience,? he added.

?Lance is going to have to find ways to help the team, because we are going to need his size and strength down low, and I think he can do it.?

Junior guards Kyle Kroeker and Mike Rousell will counted on to play high-energy defense on the wing and to knock down open shots.

?Kyle is the ultimate team player, one of our best defensive players, and he?s leading the conference in steals so far,? Ratzlaff said. ?If he can be a consistent shooter on the offensive end, he?ll be an all-conference player.?

Rousell proved himself to be an effective sparkplug last year, and Ratzlaff will look for him to ignite the Bluejays.

?We?re asking Mike to play a different style than he has been over the last year or two, but he?s understanding what we?re looking for, and he can be extremely effective,? Ratzlaff said.

Ratzlaff will ask sophomore guards Kyle de Blonk and Jordan Funk to continue to build on last year?s successes during their sophomore campaign.

?They?re both extremely consistent, they both work extremely hard,? Ratzlaff said. ?De Blonk has already led us in scoring a couple of games, so he?s had some big nights for us. He?s got to continue to shoot well and stay out of foul trouble on the defensive end.?

De Blonk?s effectiveness in running the offense while limiting turnovers has been of particular importance in the early going, as two of the Bluejays three losses have resulted from committing 20-plus giveaways.

Funk?s consistency and size are assets that will increase in value during the conference schedule.

?Jordan is a smart basketball player,? Ratzlaff said. ?You know exactly what you?re going to get when you put him in there.

?He is bigger than a lot of guards, and a lot of the 4-spots in our conference aren?t quite as big as what we?ve been facing, so we?ll be able to play him there as well.?

Junior forwards Brent Nelson and Kory Faul and freshman Micah Hiett will give the varsity additional depth.

Tabor was picked ninth prior to Ratzlaff?s first season at the helm, but given the success the Bluejays tasted a year ago, it is not shocking that Tabor vaulted into the top half of the coaches poll this year.

The conference media rated Tabor sixth, but the coaches picked the Bluejays third?ahead of McPherson, Sterling, Friends and Kansas Wesleyan, all of whom finished with better records than the Bluejays last season.

?I?m not surprised by where we were ranked,? Ratzlaff said. ?I thought we would probably be picked more like fourth or fifth, middle-of-the-pack. But a lot of the teams around the conference had big senior classes leave and we didn?t.

?Third place is a great place for us to be picked,? he said.

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