Oct. 7, 2004
BELLINGHAM, Wash. - Experience could be the difference for the Western Washington University men's basketball team in 2004-05.
The Vikings were 17-10 overall last season and placed third in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference at 11-7, narrowly missing the West Regional of the NCAA Division II National Tournament despite a starting lineup that often included two or even three sophomores and freshmen.
Now, with three double-figure scorers returning among seven letter winners and a couple of transfers providing needed front line strength, Western looks ready to grab the post-season berth that has eluded it the last three years after reaching the national semifinals in 2001.
"When you look at the players we have returning, all of them have seen extensive time," said Western coach Brad Jackson (20th year, 353-210), the winningest coach in school history in terms of victories and winning percentage (.617). "They've been down the road, and know what it is like to play in the conference. We were just two or three games away from an exceptional year last season and I like our chances with the experience we have now."
Each of the last three years, the Vikings have entered the final week of the season with a shot at a regional berth. Eight teams get spots, with the GNAC regular-season champion receiving an automatic berth.
Three starters return from last year, including the two leading scorers - junior forward Grant Dykstra (Everson/Lynden Christian), who was a second-team all-GNAC pick, and junior guard Ryan Diggs (Victorville, CA/Silverado), who received honorable mention all-league status. Both averaged 15.4 points a game.
Dykstra, who has 730 career points, also led Western in rebounds (5.9) and steals (2.0), shot 42.1 percent (56-of-133) on 3-pointers and 79.7 percent (59-of-74) on free throws. Through two seasons, he is on pace to finish among the school's top 10 career leaders in four statistical categories, a distinction currently held by just two other players.
"Grant has had an exceptional first two years," Jackson said. "He plays with great confidence, he hits big shots, and he's a very good one-on-one defender. He's an outstanding all-around player and he thrives on competition."
Diggs, who has 688 career points, also contributed 4.0 assists and 3.3 rebounds.
"Ryan is a great athlete and is becoming a great basketball player," said Jackson. "As a junior, I think he'll play with more consistency, more calmness and more confidence."
The other returning starter is senior forward Craig Roosendaal (Shoreline/King's), who averaged 13.2 points and 3.4 rebounds, shooting a school single-season record 47.5 percent (77-of-162) on 3-pointers, which ranked 15th nationally in NCAA II. Not only does he provide an outside threat, at 6-7, he's big enough to bang inside if needed.
"With the strength we've added inside, it frees him up more to do the things he does really well," Jackson said of Roosendaal. "And the primary thing is that he can really shoot it. The neat thing about Craig is if he misses a shot or two, it doesn't affect his confidence, and he gets on such good rolls, that he's a really dangerous player."
Also back on the perimeter is junior guard Kyle Jackson, the son of the head coach, who averaged 6.3 points and 2.1 assists last year and made three starts.
"Kyle is a floor leader, he has an exceptional ability to understand what's going on," said Brad Jackson. "He has a settling influence on other players and he has an ability to make others better. He's also become much stronger physically."
The Vikings were often undermanned in the post a year ago, but two transfers - junior forward Tyler Amaya (Mount Vernon) and junior center Tyler MacMullen (Mukilteo/Kamiak) - should give Western a much stronger inside presence this season.
Amaya, a versatile athlete who can play in the post or on the perimeter, averaged 10.0 points and a team-high 7.2 rebounds at Dixie JC in Utah after playing 24 games for NCAA I Gonzaga University in 2002-03. He was the MVP of the Class 3A State Tournament for Mount Vernon High School in 2001, helping the Bulldogs to the state championship.
"I've known Tyler since he was in our camps in junior high," said Jackson. "He's going to bring a dimension that will be a lot of fun for people to watch. Offensively, he gets to the basket, he can put it on the floor and he's a very good rebounder. He's hard to guard, he has good size and range."
MacMullen, who didn't start playing organized basketball until two years ago, averaged 15.0 points and 10.2 rebounds for Edmonds CC last year to earn first-team all-NWAACC North Division honors.
"He makes an effort on every play," Jackson said of MacMullen. "With his size and quickness, he's relentless on the boards. He's still just scratching the surface of his ability, but he has a good understanding of the areas he needs to develop."
Henne, who made three starts and played in every game as a true freshman, averaged 5.7 points, 2.9 rebounds and a team-high 1.0 blocks. Visser saw action in 22 contests, including one start, averaging 1.5 points and 1.1 rebounds.
"Lukas blossomed as his freshman year went on and he showed what he's capable of," Jackson said. "The key for him is his ability to play at that level on a consistent basis. With Darrell, a lot of times, guys hit their junior year and their confidence kicks in and they take a jump. He has the ability to be an extremely good rebounder, and he runs the floor well. I would love to see both those guys take another step this year."
Also back is junior guard Preston Vermuelen (Sumas/Nooksack Valley). He averaged 1.8 points, scoring 29 points in just 39 minutes of action.
"Preston has made great strides and after two years of limited playing time, he'll be pushing guys every day," said Jackson. "He's extremely valuable, he's fearless, and the other guys respect and respond to him."
Four freshmen have joined the Vikings. One of those is a transfer, as forward Brett Weisner (Spokane/Shadle Park) redshirted at Eastern Washington University last year.
"Brett's a freshman, but an older one," said Jackson. "He's a 6-5 shooter, he can run the floor, and he works extremely hard."
Two newcomers in the backcourt are freshmen Ira Graham (Fontana, CA) and Ken Nwaelele (Bothell/Inglemoor). Graham averaged 25.6 points, 6.0 assists and 6.0 rebounds, earning second-team all-CIF Division I-AA honors at Fontana High School. Nwaelele averaged 16.7 points as a prep senior, shooting 41 percent on 3-pointers. The remaining freshman is forward Calin Schell (Chelan), who averaged 17.0 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks for Chelan High.
"Ira Graham gives us the combo guard we were looking for," Jackson said. "He can handle the ball and run the point, but he can also really score. He has the ability to come in and score right away."
Completing the roster is junior center Rob Primozich (Anacortes), who redshirted last season.
The Vikings averaged 88.1 points a game last year, ranking ninth nationally in NCAA II. They also shot 41.3 percent on 3-pointers (241-of-584), being 12th nationally in 3-point percentage and 21st in 3-pointers made per game (8.9) With additional experience and a reinforced front line, Western figures to be in the thick of what should be a highly competitive GNAC race.
"To pick a favorite this year is almost impossible," Jackson said. "This is a conference that has sent a team to the Final Four three of the last five years. You have to think it's one of the top three or four conferences in the country."
"We're pretty strong in every spot. We have good shooting, a good inside game, and we should be able to get up and down the floor well. As always, you hope that players blend together well and learn to play off each other."
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