2007-08 MEN'S BASKETBALL PREVIEW
Oct. 25, 2007
BELLINGHAM, Wash. - After struggling in the latter half of last season, the Western Washington University men's basketball team has plenty of reasons to be optimistic of a return to form.
The Vikings were 11-15 last season, tying for seventh in the GNAC with a 5-11 mark. They lost nine of their last 11 games after a 9-6 start. It was the first losing season in the last nine years for Western, and only the fourth in the coaching career of Brad Jackson (23rd year, 409-239), who ranks 19th among active NCAA Division II coaches in victories and 35th in winning percentage (.631), being Western's leader in both categories.
Four of the top six scorers return from that squad, and there's also a talent infusion arriving from a quartet of junior-college transfers.
"I think last year was a bit of a struggle because we had a lot of young players," said Jackson, whose team still has just one senior this season. "But they have some experience now, and we've had a good recruiting year. That should translate into us being a good, solid team."
Leading the returnees is junior guard Ira Graham (Fontana, CA). Graham was second on the team and ninth in the GNAC in scoring, averaging 15.3 points a game, as well as contributing a team-high 3.3 assists a contest, which was seventh in the conference.
"Ira had a solid year, and now he's a year older, with a full season under his belt," said Jackson. "Once guys reach their junior year, they normally develop a sense of what it is like to play night-in and night-out in the GNAC, and develop even more. I'd certainly expect that to happen for him."
Also returning in the backcourt is sophomore guard Harold McAllister (Vancouver/Mountain View), who averaged 8.0 points and 2.3 assists. McAllister, who made 14 starts last year, shot 45.9 percent on 3-pointers (34-of-74) and was third in the GNAC with a team-best free-throw percentage of 90.4 (47-of-52).
Two starters return in the frontcourt. Sophomore center Steve Severin (Richland/Hanford) started every game as a freshman, averaging 6.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and a team-high 1.6 blocks while shooting 52.2 percent from the field (71-of-136). The block mark was the third best in the league. Junior forward Calin Schell (Chelan) averaged 7.4 points and 5.8 rebounds, ranking seventh in the GNAC in the latter category.
Also back is junior center David Brittinen (Hoquiam), who averaged 2.4 points and 1.8 rebounds in 17 games last season. Another returnee who could see significant time is junior guard Jason Pegues (Seattle/Cleveland), who redshirted last year.
Sophomore guard Brandon Williams (Chicago, IL/Thornton Fractional North), who averaged 5.6 points last season, is likely to redshirt.
Bolstering the lineup are four junior college transfers - two each from Bakersfield CC and Highline CC.
The Bakersfield CC transfers were both first-team all-Western State Conference picks from a team that posted a 30-3 record last year. Junior forward Steve Alford (Bakersfield, CA/South) averaged 12.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.8 steals. Junior guard Andrew Ready (Chicago, IL/Westinghouse) averaged 9.9 points, 4.7 rebounds and a league-leading 5.5 assists.
The newcomers from Highline CC are junior guard Derrick Webb (Port Orchard/South Kitsap) and junior center Zach Bruce (Oceanside, CA). Webb was co-MVP of the NWAACC's Western Region, averaging 16.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists. Bruce was a second-team all-region pick, contributing 14.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks.
"As a group, they are complementary players who all bring something to the table," Jackson said. "Both programs had very good years, and they come in as well-established players from good basketball environments."
Completing the active roster are senior guard Greg Meier (Chelan), who played in 13 games last season, and redshirt freshman guard Anthony Wiederkehr (Arlington/Lakewood). Center Chris Mitchell (Everson/Nooksack Valley) and forward Rory Blanche (Ashland, OR), both freshmen, are likely to redshirt.
The Vikings play preseason exhibition games at Fresno State on Nov. 4 and Oregon State on Nov. 11. They also play a non-conference schedule that includes three tournaments before opening GNAC play Jan. 3 at Northwest Nazarene.
"It's always hard to tell, but on paper, the GNAC is probably as strong top-to-bottom as it has ever been," Jackson said. "The talent level is high, the coaching is outstanding. When you add to that the difficulty of travel in our league, there can't be too many conferences that match that."
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