2010-11 Preview: Vikings look to reload after reaching West Regional semifinals
Nov. 3, 2010
BELLINGHAM, Wash. - With the entire starting lineup gone, it would be easy to think the cupboard was bare for the Western Washington University men's basketball team in 2010-11.
Far from it.
The Vikings were 26-6 last season, placing second in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference with a 12-4 mark. They were the host and top seed in the West Regional of the NCAA Division II National Tournament, reaching the semifinals before losing 76-75 in overtime to eventual national champion Cal Poly Pomona.
Sure, six of the top seven scorers completed their eligibility, but that understates the level of talent returning, a group that has been fortified by a strong group of transfers.
"With such a large turnover, there's going to be an adjustment time," said Western coach Brad Jackson. "Right now, we're just looking at combinations, seeing who will emerge. We want to utilize the early part of the season to be sure everybody learns what we're doing and how we play.
"It's a hard-working group, they come to practice focused every day, and they're very receptive to teaching."
Jackson enters his 26th season, the longest tenure of any coach in any sport in school history, with a career record of 471-263. His victory total ranks No.18 among active NCAA II coaches, and his winning percentage is the best in Western history.
Four players with extensive experience return, led by the team's lone senior, forward Michael Duty (Seattle/O'Dea). Duty had been named MVP of the Disney Classic and was leading Western in scoring when he severely broke his finger in the fourth game of last season, eventually being granted a medical redshirt. He averaged 12.8 points and 5.8 rebounds in those four games after contributing 10.3 points and 4.5 rebounds as a junior.
"We're glad Michael has been able to come back from his injury," Jackson said. "He'll be a major factor for us. He's a strong, physical guy who can play inside and outside, and he offers a lot of leadership as well."
The other three players with the most experience are junior forward Rory Blanche (Ashland, OR), junior guard Cameron Severson (Petersburg, AK) and sophomore center Chris Mitchell (Everson/Nooksack Valley).
Blanche was Western's top scoring reserve last season, averaging 8.5 points and 2.9 rebounds while ranking fifth in the GNAC in field-goal percentage at 58.1 percent. He averaged 11.3 points over the last 12 games, scoring in double-figures in nine of them.
Severson, who has been bothered by a foot injury, averaged 4.4 points, having 14 points and seven rebounds in a regionally televised victory over Central Washington. Mitchell averaged 3.3 points and 2.9 rebounds, and showed a deft outside touch for a 6-foot-9 player, hitting six of his last 10 3-point attempts on the season.
Another key returnee from last year's squad is junior forward Zach Henifin (Bellingham), who redshirted last season. Henifin averaged 12.4 points and 5.7 rebounds for Whatcom CC in 2007-08, and was named team MVP in both seasons there.
Completing the list of returnees are junior guard Anthony Wiederkehr (Lakewood), redshirt freshman guard Dane Thorpe (Bellingham/Sehome) and sophomore guard Tyler Grosz (Hockinson). Wiederkehr averaged 2.9 points in 16 games in 2008-09 prior to sitting out last season, Grosz saw action in six games last year.
Four transfers could have an immediate impact. The lone transfer from a four-year school is sophomore guard John Allen (Brier/Mountlake Terrace), who saw action in 13 games for NCAA I Washington State last season.
Three transfers come from the JUCO ranks. Junior guard Rico Wilkins (Dallas, TX/DeSoto), who averaged 15.8 points and was the NWAACC Eastern Region MVP for Yakima Valley CC in 2008-09; junior guard Shedrick Nelson (Tacoma/Wilson), who averaged 14.3 points and 6.6 rebounds at Highline CC in 2008-09; and junior center Dan Young (Federal Way), who averaged 7.9 points and team-highs of 7.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks last season for Highline.
Completing the roster are two freshmen, forward Bryce McPhee (Normandy Park/Mount Rainier) and guard Derek Dickerson (Bellingham/Squalicum). McPhee averaged 13.7 points and 6.9 rebounds as a senior, earning first-team all-Seamount League honors. Dickerson, whose father, Tim, was an all-district guard for Western in the late 1980s and who still holds many Viking 3-point shooting records, was a first-team Class 2A all-state selection and the state tournament MVP as a senior, averaging 18.9 points while hitting 101 treys.
Sophomore guard Richard Woodworth (Bellevue/Newport), who averaged 2.0 points in 26 games, will redshirt this year after undergoing wrist surgery during the summer. Sophomore forward Paul Jones (Kent/Kent-Meridian) is not eligible this season after transferring from Whatcom CC where he was a first-team NWAACC all-Northern Region pick in 2009-10.
"We have a nice balance of incoming transfers and freshmen," said Jackson. "They have differing skill sets, which gives us balance not just in terms of classes, but the talents they bring to the table. I think the individual strengths they have will impact us in a positive way."
Western opens its season Nov.16, entertaining Willamette. GNAC play begins Dec. 2, when the Vikings host Montana State Billings.
"Our conference has proven each year to be one of premier DII leagues in the country," Jackson said. "If you look at what our teams do in regional and national play, you can't question that. And this year, it might be as strong top-to-bottom as it's been in quite a while. Teams are continuing to get better, with outstanding coaching and really good athletes."
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