Teamwork key for Bluejay men

Tabor men’s coach Micah Ratzlaff (black shirt) has 12 seniors to build upon this season. The Bluejays were picked for second place in the KCAC during the preseason. Pictured are: back row (from left), Travell Robinson, Jimson Clerveus, Coach Ratzlaff, Alex Arnold, Gaven Schumann, Jordan Horstick; front row, Julian Winton, DeShun Patterson, Alan Urrutia, Darren Spruill, Kyle Baker.
Tabor men’s coach Micah Ratzlaff (black shirt) has 12 seniors to build upon this season. The Bluejays were picked for second place in the KCAC during the preseason. Pictured are: back row (from left), Travell Robinson, Jimson Clerveus, Coach Ratzlaff, Alex Arnold, Gaven Schumann, Jordan Horstick; front row, Julian Winton, DeShun Patterson, Alan Urrutia, Darren Spruill, Kyle Baker.
Picked for success in KCAC and NAIA preseason polls, the Tabor College men’s basketball team has a long way to go to meet those lofty expectations, according to Micah Ratzlaff, who has compiled a 180-126 record in his 10 years as the Bluejays’ head coach.

The search for on-court leadership and the need for teamwork will be Tabor’s keys for success this season after compiling a 2-5 record in the early going.

“It’s a good group,” Ratz­laff said of his team. “We’ve got plenty of bodies, and they’re all capable of getting the job done. We’ve just got to find a leader to get us on the same page.”

Lance Carter, an NAIA first-team All-American at Tabor his senior season, carried a lot of that load as a player. Now, as a graduate assistant on the Bluejay bench, he and Ratzlaff are looking to fix the shortcoming that surfaced during early-season games.

“We can see the need, but we can’t seem to do anything about it yet,” Ratzlaff said.

Senior foundation

But the Bluejay coach is not despairing. A roster blessed with 10 seniors should be a good foundation for building team chemistry.

Heading the list is Julian Winton (6-foot guard from Kansas City), who earned “KCAC Newcomer of the Year” after transfering to Tabor last season. So far, Winton has been averaging 22.4 points and 3.8 rebounds and has 19 of the team’s 45 assists.

Ratzlaff also is looking to senior Alan Urrutia (6-0) to help carry that load, on both ends of the court.

“Julian and Alan are obviously the two who have played the most,” Ratzlaff said. “But they’re both playing different roles this year.

“Julian’s got to be able to score, and he will. We need those two guys to get the team going—whether it’s practice or whether it’s a game. We’re looking for good things from them.

“Alan is actually known for his defensive play,” he added. “We need Alan to be a little more aggressive offensively, because it takes a little bit of the pressure off of Julian.”

As for Urrutia: “He’s so focused on the defensive end, which I love, and he doesn’t want to screw up, which I also love,” Ratzlaff said. “We’re just trying to get him a little looser on the offensive end.”

A third senior critical for a successful season is DeShun Patterson, a 5-10 guard from Minneapolis, Minn.

“I think those three guys thought they would kind of roll back into this year and things would pick right up, but that’s just not the case,” Ratzlaff said. “We have a completely different group this year.

“The roles that we lost from our senior group last year were so big,” he added. “Obviously, Lance, for one. So you try to figure out how to get easy points, like at the free-throw line or get something positive happening when you need a positive play. We’re just not getting that, but we’re trying to figure it out.”

Ratzlaff said the lessons learned during last year’s highly successful season, when the Jays made it to the NAIA Elite 8 after upset wins in the first and second rounds, aren’t passed on automatically.

“The way we finished last year, our guys hadn’t realized how well we were playing together,” Ratzlaff said. “That’s the main thing. They obviously haven’t figure it out. We were on the same page last year toward the end of the year, and a lot of that was off the defensive end, just finding ways to get stops.”

With senior Jordan Hor­stick (6-4 guard/forward) in the starting lineup in recent games, the team has been improving, according to his coach.

“Mentally and physically he’s always trying to do the right thing,” Ratzlaff said of Horstick. “We’ve just got to play him, and it’s been the most minutes he’s ever played. He;s earned it. He just works his tail off.”

Ratzlaff also highlighted the play of Kyle Baker (6-2 guard), another dependable senior.

“Kyle’s playing probably as consistent as anybody on our team,” Ratzlaff said. “He’s very intelligent, he competes, he gets a lot done with what he has and he can really shoot it—but (teammates) don’t seem to find him on the court.”

The Bluejays have been playing 11 and 12 players almost every game with the hope of finding successful combinations.

“Gaven Schumann (6-3 guard/forward) is a senior and he’s more than capable of doing exactly what we want,” Ratzlaff said. “He’s definitely a system guy who will execute.”

Junior Diontre Cutliff (6-3 guard/forward) has started a couple of games recently.

“We’re excited about him, but we just need these guys to be aggressive, to be able to rebound and to hold their ground at the 4 and 5 spots,” Ratzlaff said. “Those have been tough spots for us, They show us they can make plays once in a while, but it’s just not consistent.”

Newcomers

As for new faces, Ratzlaff highlighted Jon Manjon Beristain, a 6-7 junior from Spain via Barstow Com­munity College in Califor­nia, and Michael Russell, a 6-3 freshman guard from Minnesota.

Both players are a work in progress.

Beristain has the potential to make a significant contribution at the post position, but has been inconsistent so far this season.

“He has spurts in games where he is completely dominant,” Ratzlaff said. “At the Sterling tournament, there was a 5-minute stretch in each game where he was the best player on the floor. But he’s probably playing about 25 minutes a game. He does a really good job of getting close to the rim, making good strong moves, but he just needs to finish the play.

“We’re trying to light a fire under him,” Ratzlaff added. “He tends to kind of roam around in practice at times. The minute we say something, he picks it up. But you can’t stay on a kid the whole time.

“Positive, great teammate, great student—he’s everything we thought we were going to get, we just need to find ways to get him to be more successful.”

Russell has had an up-and-down start as well.

“We’re excited about Michael, a freshman I thought would be way ahead of where he is right now,” Ratzlaff said. “He’s coming off a big high school career where he had to do everything because of where his team was at. He scored 25, 26 points a game and was launching it from here and there. We just need to get him back on page here because we’ve got to get some outside shooting.”

A third newcomer capable of impact is Isaiah Wilson, a 6-6 transfer from Weatherford College, who has appeared in three games so far.

“Isaiah has all the talent in the world,” Ratzlaff said. “He can shoot it well, but shot selection is going to be big for him—and to learn how to guard. He ought to be in double-digit rebounds and points. He could change our team completely if he would be consistent on the offensive end, because it’s not about the defensive end.”