Muskies shooting for a return trip to NCAA Tournament
Athletics - posted on 11/11/2004Keep the roster for this season's Lakeland College men's basketball team handy - there are a whole lot of new faces wearing the Lakeland blue and gold this winter.
And if things play out the way head coach Gary Grzesk plans, a whole lot of them will see plenty of playing time.
A total of 16 new players are part of the men's basketball program, and Grzesk is looking for a double-digit number of players to see double-digit minutes this season.
"We have 10-12 guys that are all capable players which is something we focused on and want to continue to do," said Grzesk, who is entering his second season. "Playing that way allows our players to go all out with a high level of intensity at both ends of the court on every possession."
That's a big switch from the end of last season, when a single-digit roster surprised many by sliding through the Lake Michigan Conference Tournament and earning the college's first-ever NCAA Division III National Tournament appearance.
Gone from that team are all-everything guard Cory Nickel, who joins the program as an assistant coach this season, and defensive bulldog Danny Jansson, a native of Finland who is earning his master's degree and playing overseas.
"It will be difficult to replace those two," Grzesk said. "As individuals go, we don't have any one person that can fill Cory's shoes. I hope collectively as a team, with the experience the returnees have gained, along with the newcomers, we'll fill that gap.
"There are a number of individuals who we'll be counting on to step up defensively to set the tone that Danny did."
Grzesk is looking for big things from his three seniors - 6-foot-5 center Nick Zeck (West Allis), 6-3 forward Ryan Hiir (Greenfield) and 6-8 center Eric Wilbee (Rapid River, Mich.)
Zeck, an all-conference football player, was a first team all-LMC honoree last season and has the potential to turn in Player of the Year-caliber performances, and Hiir was honorable mention all-LMC. The seniors anchor the most experienced part of Lakeland's team.
Joining the post rotation are a promising group of freshmen, including 6-6 Paul Keller (Port Washington), 6-4 David Hoerres (Waterford) and 6-6 Al Ruys (Appleton), who will all push for playing time and give Grzesk several different lineup options.
"Even though we're big, we're pretty skilled and can pass and handle the ball well, which is a good fit for how we want to play," Grzesk said. "The post is definitely the strength of our program with the experience those three seniors got last year. They've proven over the course of a season that they're very reliable."
The shooting guard and small forward spots also feature a number of interchangeable players, led by 6-2 junior Nick Howard (Sturgeon Bay), a member of the all-LMC rookie team as a freshman.
"Even though we saw signs of Nick's ability last year it was more sporadic," Grzesk said. "I look for him to be really consistent and solid this entire season."
Junior Terrance Doss, a returning starter, is recovering from a late-season ACL tear and might return around holiday time.
Freshman sharp-shooter Kris Saiberlich, who played in three straight state tournaments for high school power Fond du Lac, has the early-season nod on the starting shooting guard spot.
Sophomores Craig Keller (Luxemburg) and Will Jenson (Eau Claire) and freshmen Danny Ehnert (Sussex) will all get key playing time.
"A lot of our kids are capable of playing more than one position," Grzesk said. "I can easily see us playing with three guards on the floor."
The point guard spot will be headed by 6-1 junior Germayne James (Richmond, Ind.), a transfer from Ancilla Junior College in Indiana.
"Germayne's best position is probably off the ball, but because he can handle it so well we'll use him at both guard positions," Grzesk said.
Providing depth at point guard are sophomore Logan Heine (Horicon), who gained invaluable experience last season learning under Nickel, and freshman Aaron Regal, a two-time conference player of the year from Suring.
Preparing these new Muskies for the rigors of LMC play will be a rough early-season schedule that included an exhibition game with Grzesk's alma mater, Division I UW-Green Bay. Three of Lakeland's first four games are against members of the powerful Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, generally regarded as the best Division III league in the country.
That stretch includes a home opener with defending national UW-Stevens Point, and the Pointers will likely come to campus ranked No. 1 in the nation.
"To be the best, you have to play the best," Grzesk said. "We want to be playing our best at the end of the season come tournament time. Playing these teams early will help make us better as the season progresses."
There's no doubt the Muskies are shooting for a return to the NCAA Tournament.
"After getting a taste of the NCAA Tournament last year, I think it's realistic to get there again this year," Grzesk said. "Once you get there, in tournament time, anything can happen. However, with losing those seniors from last year, there are a lot of questions to be answered and roles yet to be filled."
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