2003-04 BASKETBALL PREVIEW
Oct. 15, 2003
BELLINGHAM, Wash. - The backcourt returns virtually intact, but the frontline is filled with newcomers as the Western Washington University men's basketball team seeks its fifth consecutive winning season.
No less than seven guards, including both starters and a third double-figure scorer, return from last season's 16-11 squad that finished 10-8 in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, led by senior Jason Burrell (Ontario, CA).
The Vikings enter the campaign with four straight winning seasons. A fifth would match the longest streak of the last 30 years.
"We are the epitome of 'young team'," said Western coach Brad Jackson (19th year, 336-200), the winningest coach in school history in both career victories and winning percentage (.627). "We only have two seniors, and our juniors are guys who haven't played for us. We have a lot of talented, but still relatively unproven players. What they do bring is a work ethic. These guys like the game, they're good about getting to the weight room, and they do the things they need to do to get better on their own."
Last season, Western had six freshmen on the roster, four of whom saw extensive action. They're sophomores now, with a year of experience under their belts.
"You think of all the things they dealt with as true freshmen, now they know what to expect," Jackson said of his sophomores. "They have a great sense of camaraderie and basketball understanding. One of the biggest things is that they're guys who want to win and are aware of their teammates. If somebody has a hot hand, these guys want them to have the ball."
Burrell averaged 13.9 points and 4.5 rebounds, and ranked second in the GNAC in assists (4.2) last season. Burrell, who notched the first triple-double in the program's history in a victory over Alaska Fairbanks, is also very effective at getting to the free-throw line, getting a team-best average of 6.7 attempts a game last year, the third-best mark in the GNAC.
"Jason has been a real key part of our program," said Jackson. "He does a nice job of combining floor leadership with an ability to score, and his rebounding is exceptional for a guard. Jason is well respected by his teammates and is well prepared to give senior leadership."
Burrell is one of three double-figure scorers returning on the perimeter, as forward Grant Dykstra (Everson/Lynden Christian) and guard Ryan Diggs (Victorville, CA/Silverado), both sophomores, were the first freshman duo to each average double-digits in the same season. The previous four rank among Western's top six in career scoring.
Dykstra, the only returning player to start every game last season, averaged 11.6 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists. He was Western's top 3-point shooting threat, hitting 40-of-105 (38.1 percent).
"Grant is a superior athlete and an excellent decision-maker," Jackson said. "He's very even tempered, there aren't a lot of ups and downs with him, and he always finds a way to get things done - he's used to doing well."
Diggs, who made eight starts, averaged 11.1 points and a team-best 1.6 steals, which ranked sixth in the GNAC. He had moments of brilliance, scoring 24 points in a loss at Central Washington.
"Ryan is a superb athlete, he looks like an NFL defensive back," Jackson said. "He always puts forth great effort, and he really has the capability to be a great offensive player."
That trio alone would provide experience in the backcourt, but Western's depth is such that two more guards saw extensive time last season. Senior Stefan Dickason (Kent/Kentridge) averaged 6.3 points last year and made seven starts. He had 31 points in a victory over Puget Sound.
"Stefan came here as a freshman walk-on and his game has improved dramatically," said Jackson. "His biggest strength is his athleticism - he's strong and quick, and can really get after people defensively. His shooting has improved, but more than that, his overall understanding of the game has grown."
Sophomore Kyle Jackson (Bellingham/Sehome), the son of the head coach, averaged 4.6 points, making one start. He committed just 14 turnovers, one for every 28.6 minutes he was on the floor.
"Kyle doesn't make many mistakes, he's a really good shooter, and he understands game situations - where the ball needs to go, what we need to do defensively," the elder Jackson said of the younger. "I think the biggest difference this year is that he's worked hard in the weight room and is starting to mature physically."
Another returning sophomore guard who might figure in is Preston Vermeulen (Sumas/Nooksack Valley), who scored 19 points in seven games after walking on the previous spring.
For all the returnees on the perimeter, up front there's just one player who saw the floor a year ago - sophomore forward Darrell Visser (Lynden). Visser averaged 3.0 points and 2.4 rebounds and blocked 17 shots.
"Darrell had a very good freshman year and he's grown a lot, especially in confidence," Jackson said. "He's done a nice job of learning our system, and I think he'll take another step this season."
Back after redshirting last year is freshman forward Jordan Rush (Los Angeles, CA/Crossroads).
"He had an adjustment period coming from high school and I'm thankful he had that redshirt year to acclimatize," Jackson said of Rush. "He's very physically gifted. Jordan can jump out of the gym, and while he doesn't have all the elements of a complete defender yet, he could become a premier defensive player."
New to the frontline are three junior college transfers - center Rubens Martinelli (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) from Kirtland CC, Mich.; forward Rod Picou (Oakland, CA/Castlemont) from Skyline JC, Calif., and forward Craig Roosendaal (Shoreline/Kings) from Edmonds CC.
"After Darrell, everybody is new," said Jackson. "The operative phrase is untested. They have good credentials, but it has to be proven."
Martinelli, who played on the Brazilian 19-and-under national team, averaged 4.2 points and 4.2 rebounds in a backup role at Kirtland. At 6-foot-9, 235 pounds, he provides a physical presence to a Viking squad that lost its three tallest regulars from last season.
"Rubens played in a very good JC program with some high-level players," Jackson said. "He brings us some size, and he's a good defender who can also run the floor."
The 6-6, 230, Picou also provides a banger inside. He averaged 10.5 points and 6.5 rebounds for a 19-15 Skyline squad, shooting 56.2 percent from the field to rank second in the Coast Conference.
"Rod is a physical, hardnosed, tough kid," Jackson said. "He's a good scorer, and he's excited to be part of the program. Rod will be a guy people love to watch."
Roosendaal was the MVP of the NWAACC North Region at Edmonds, averaging 17.5 points and 6.4 rebounds on 55.0 percent field goal shooting. He was the Class 1A State Player of the Year as a senior at Kings.
"Craig is an outside-in guy, his game is facing the basket and he shoots a lot of threes, but he can also post up," Jackson said. "He really blossomed under Keith Kingsbury at Edmonds. He's a scorer, he runs the floor, and he gives us an ability to stretch defenses that will be very significant."
Another addition up front is freshman Grant Assink (Lynden), who sat out last season while attending Whatcom CC. He averaged 11.9 points and 7.3 rebounds as senior at Lynden High School, where he was a teammate of Darrell Visser on a team that went 22-3.
"I think the year out was good for him," Jackson said. "He developed a bit and worked hard on his own. He's pushing 6-9 and still growing, he has range out to the 3-point line, and I believe as he learns the game, he'll be a presence at both ends of the floor."
Assink is one of just two freshmen on the roster. The other is center Lukas Henne (Bremerton/Central Kitsap), who averaged 14.1 points and 8.0 rebounds as a high school senior. Henne is expected to redshirt.
Completing the roster are sophomore forward James Laurence (Kent/Kent-Meridian), who will join the team after finishing his season as a wide receiver on the Western football team; junior center Rob Primozich (Anacortes), a transfer from Everett CC; and sophomore guard John Schindler (Spokane/Mount Saint Michael's), who saw action in five games last year.
"I'd expect that we'll be a good shooting team, and we have a lot of interchangeable parts," said Jackson. "We have a lot of guys who can handle the ball well and we'll be able to use a lot of different combinations."
The Vikings open the season with four consecutive home games, including the WWU/Chuck Randall Thanksgiving Classic, where they face Saint Leo, Fla., on Fri., Nov. 28, and Concordia, Ore., on Sat. Nov. 29. Western then starts GNAC play with a road trip to Alaska in the opening week of December.
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