Oct. 23, 2008
BELLINGHAM, Wash. -
After two years on the outside looking in as the NCAA Division II National Tournament was played, the Western Washington University men's basketball team looks well positioned to make another run at the post-season.
The Vikings were 15-12 overall last season, and 8-10 in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference. They were 12-6 in early February and in contention for a West Regional berth before suffering a late-season slide.
Led by senior guard Ira Graham (Fontana, CA), the team's leading scorer, three starters return from 2007-08, as do three of the top four reserves. There's also a solid group of transfers and freshmen ready to contribute for coach Brad Jackson (24th year, 424-251), the winningest coach in school history in both victories and percentage (.628).
"I like the personalities on this team," said Jackson. "Our new guys have come and fit right in. I believe this is a very focused and self-motivated group. They like the game and want to do well."
Graham, a first-team all-GNAC pick last season, averaged team-highs of 18.5 points and 2.9 assists a game. He also shot 52.3 percent (184-of-352) from the field. Graham needs just 50 points to become the 21st player in school history to score 1,000 career points.
The other returning starters are both senior forwards. Calin Schell (Chelan) is more the banger, Steve Alford (Bakersfield, CA/South) more the perimeter threat, although both bring versatility. Schell averaged 9.2 points and a team-high 7.7 rebounds last season, Alford averaged 10.1 points.
Junior guard Harold McAllister (Vancouver/Mountain View) headlines the returning reserves. McAllister started nine games last season after making 14 starts as a freshman. He averaged 5.7 points while shooting a team-high 40.3 percent (31-of-77) on 3-pointers a year ago.
Junior center David Brittinen (Hoquiam) averaged 5.6 points and 1.8 rebounds a game last season while shooting an astounding 74.0 percent (57-of-77) from the field. He averaged 9.0 points and 4.2 rebounds over the last 11 contests.
Senior center Zach Bruce (Oceanside, CA) also saw regular minutes last year. He averaged 5.1 points and 3.1 rebounds.
The only other returnee to see action last year, sophomore guard Anthony Weiderkher (Lakewood), played in 12 games, scoring 15 points. Senior Derrick Webb (Port Orchard/South Kitsap), who averaged 9.0 points, will miss the season because of a wrist injury.
Two additional returnees are redshirt freshmen - forward Rory Blanche (Ashland, OR) and center Chris Mitchell (Everson/Nooksack Valley).
Joining the Vikings are three transfers and one freshman. The biggest transfer, literally, is 7-foot center Dave Vanderjagt (Townsville, Australia), an Australian who played the last two seasons at NCAA I Montana.
The other two transfers are from the junior college ranks. Junior guard Morris Anderson (Federal Way/Decatur) averaged 14.0 points in helping Highline CC reach the NWAACC championship game in 2006-07. Forward Michael Duty (Seattle/O'Dea) averaged 13.0 points and 7.0 rebounds for Bellevue CC after spending his freshman year at NCAA I Wagner.
The lone true freshman is guard Cameron Severson (Petersburg, AK), who was the Alaska Class 3A Player of the Year as a junior and a first-team all-state pick as a senior.
"We have an outstanding backcourt, something a championship-caliber team has to have," Jackson said. "And our frontline is very versatile, we have good size and good skills. It really boils down to our day-to-day focus and effort. The more consistent those are, the more opportunity you have to keep getting better. I think we have a group of guys who are anxious to prove what they can do."
Those opportunities come quickly, as the preseason exhibition schedule includes a visit to the University of Washington on Nov. 6. The regular season opens Nov. 17 as Western hosts Cascade College, and GNAC play starts Jan. 8 with a visit by Montana State-Billings.