Oct. 23, 2013
2013-14 GNAC Preview
BELLINGHAM, Wash. -
The last two seasons have been the best back-to-back years in the history of men's basketball at Western Washington University.
The Vikings claimed an NCAA Division II National Championship in 2012, then followed it up with a trip to the national semifinals as part of a 2012-13 campaign that saw WWU post a 31-3 record, including a 24-game winning streak to start the season. On the way, the Vikings claimed a second straight Great Northwest Athletic Conference regular-season championship with a 17-1 mark and a second straight West Regional title.
Most of the core of those teams is gone now, but the Vikings still hold high hopes that the players remaining and an exciting group of newcomers can sustain the level of success achieved the past two seasons. Outsiders share that optimism, as WWU is ranked ninth in The Sporting News Pre-season NCAA II Top 10 and No.17 in the Division II Bulletin Pre-season Top 25.
"In the 15 years we've been in Division II, we've hosted the regional six times," said WWU head coach Tony Dominguez (2nd year, 31-3). "When you take that history, then look at what we've done the last couple years, it creates a culture where winning is expected. Because of that, guys come in with a certain level of confidence."
WWU would like to become the first team since 1994 to win three straight West Regional titles, Cal State Bakersfield completing a string of five that season. The only other team to win three consecutive West Region championships was UC Riverside from 1973 to 1975.
Six letter winners, including two starters, return from last season for the Vikings, and four of them are seniors.
Leading the returnees are senior guard Richard Woodworth (Bellevue/Newport) and senior center Austin Bragg (Longview/Mark Morris), pre-season all-GNAC selections who both started all 34 games last season.
Woodworth was a second-team all-GNAC pick and West Regional Most Outstanding Player last season, averaging 11.1 points, 3.4 assists and a team-high 1.4 steals while shooting 43.8 percent (42-of-96) on 3-pointers. He is the lone starter left from the national championship squad, having started 69 of WWU's last 70 games, and enters the year with 812 career points.
"Richard has been an unsung hero for us," said Dominguez. "He rebounds, he defends, he's unselfish, and when we need him to score, he scores. He's been our do-everything guy."
Bragg averaged 9.1 points and team-highs of 7.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks to earn all-GNAC honorable mention.
The other returnee to see extensive action last season is junior forward Anye Turner (Olympia/Black Hills), who contributed 4.2 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.2 blocks, shooting 59.3 percent (48-of-81) from the field.
"Austin and Anye played supporting roles last year, which is something they'd never done in their basketball careers before, and played those roles well," Dominguez said. "Now that they can step back into primary roles, they're going to be even better."
Two returning senior guards also figure to play prominent roles. Dane Thorpe (Bellingham/Sehome) averaged 1.9 points in 18 contests last year and was also a part of the regular rotation in the post-season. Alfred Davis (Tacoma/Lincoln) averaged 1.9 points in 15 games.
"Both of those guys are seniors who have waited for their time and are both battling for starting spots," Dominguez said. "Dane works really hard, and is a good athlete with the ability to score. Alfred is very tough, and we'd like him to play a big role defensively."
The other player back after seeing time last season is junior forward Robert Oliver (Federal Way/Decatur), who saw action in 12 contests, scoring eight points.
In the frontcourt, freshmen forwards Joey Schreiber (Renton/Eastside Catholic) and Jeffrey Parker (Richmond, CA/Salesian) return after redshirting. Both could see significant time.
"They are both very skilled guys who can shoot the three and drive," said Dominguez. "They have great potential and we expect them to be contributors this season."
Another redshirt freshman forward, Dana Abe (Seattle/O'Dea), will become eligible at the winter break.
There's also a host of newcomers. Senior guard Robert Harris, Jr. (Kent/Rainier Beach), a transfer from NCAA I Idaho, figures to have the most immediate impact. He averaged 4.7 points and 1.8 assists for the Vandals last season while making 12 starts.
Another guard expected to contribute is freshman Nick Velasquez (Honolulu, HI/Punahou). He was first-team all-state pick in Hawaii as a high school senior, as well as the Interscholastic League of Honolulu Division I Player of the Year. Completing the backcourt is junior Mark Hopkins (San Antonio, TX/Randolph), a transfer from Temple JC.
Inside, two junior college transfers are expected to have immediate impact. Junior forward Colby Mitchell (Chugiak, AK) averaged 13.6 points and 7.2 rebounds for Mount Hood CC last year, and junior center Jordan Mosby-Barber (Portland/Parkrose) averaged 11.6 points and 7.8 rebounds for Clackamas CC. Dominguez believes both will bring an added element of toughness to the roster.
Four players are expected to redshirt - junior forward Chris Tanis (Bellingham/Mount Baker) from Whatcom CC, junior guard Ricardo Maxwell (Cincinnati, OH/Edmonds CC), freshman forward Evan Scholten (Bothell/Cedar Park Christian), and junior center Blake Bowen (Vancouver/Skyview) from Clark CC.
The Vikings open the year with eight consecutive home games, including tough Division II non-league contests against perennial West Region power BYU-Hawaii on Nov. 19 and 2013 national finalist Metro State on Nov. 30.
GNAC play opens at Sam Carver Gymnasium on Dec. 5 against Western Oregon.
"I think we play in the best Division II conference in the country," said Dominguez. "There are no nights where you can take a breather. Every game is extremely competitive."