GVSU men’s basketball hopes to bounce back after 2014 disappointment

GVL/Kevin Sielaff
#32 Ricardo Carbajal

GVL/Kevin Sielaff #32 Ricardo Carbajal

Adam Knorr

The 2014-15 season is in the books for the Grand Valley State men’s basketball team. The Lakers finished 13-15, leaving the season with a losing record for the first time in over a decade.

The past is the past. The Lakers are fixated on the present. The slate is clean, and GVSU basketball is ready to rebound in the ever-tough GLIAC.

“We definitely want to bounce back from last year, (it) wasn’t a good season last year,” said senior Ricardo Carbajal. “We had a lot of injuries, didn’t have a lot of the people we have this year, so we want to bounce back and do better than last year, and hopefully at the end of the season end it with a ring. That’s always the goal.”

The Lakers have hopes of qualifying for the NCAA tournament this season, but first, GVSU will have to soldier through the GLIAC. The Lakers were picked to finish fourth in the GLIAC North — likely the tougher of the two GLIAC divisions — in the 2015 preseason poll. GVSU’s conference schedule will test it as much as ever, but the Lakers have already squared off against the best competition they’ll see all year.

In two preseason exhibition games, GVSU travelled to the University of Cincinnati and No. 7 Iowa State. The Lakers were blown out in both contests. For GVSU head coach Ric Wesley, the exhibition games served as a chance to gauge what his Lakers need to work on heading into the regular season.

“I don’t know that there was a lot to be happy about. We told our team that they probably played the toughest schedule in America last week in terms of competition, in terms of travel,” Wesley said. “It was a tough week, a little bit hard to evaluate, the caliber of the competition was so high that it was difficult for us to really have much success unfortunately.

“My biggest disappointment was our defense. Even though we were playing a high level competition, even more than the fact that (our opponents) scored a lot of points, I felt like we gave them a lot of easy opportunities.”

Defense has long been a hallmark of Wesley-led squads, and the coaching staff will push its team to rotate more effectively and close out on outside shooters as the season looms. Last year, the Lakers finished near the middle of the GLIAC with 68.8 points per game allowed.

Offensively, GVSU returns most of its firepower from last season, and adds a little more fuel for the flames. Four of GVSU’s top five scorers from last season — Carbajal, Luke Ryskamp, Aaron Hayes and Darren Kapustka — return with an extra year of experience in 2015. The Lakers lost only guard Ryan Sabin (13.4 PPG) from last season from among their top scorers.

Sabin’s loss opens the door for another winger to fill into the rotation, but GVSU’s best “newcomer” spends most of his time in the paint.

Chaz Rollins, a 2014-15 senior, suffered an injury after playing in three games last season and earned a medical redshirt. As a junior in 2013-14, Rollins was punishing in the post, leading the Lakers in rebounds and blocked shots, along with field goal percentage. His return will give the Lakers more options in the post along with a proven rebounder.

“Chaz is one of our better players. He’s a tremendous rebounder, he’s a versatile offensive player. He’s a good 15-foot shooter, very good at driving to the basket and finishing with either hand,” Wesley said. “We really missed him last year. I think he’s a better player now than what he was his first year for us. He’s a little bigger, stronger, his work ethic has improved, so he’s a little more consistent on a day-to-day basis.

“We expect him to have a big year for us and we need him to be one of the better front-court players in our league.”

Along with Rollins, Carbajal will have a major opportunity to be a catalyst for GVSU’s turnaround. The 6-foot-6-inch forward was voted to the All-GLIAC Second Team last season, and to the Preseason All-GLIAC North Second Team this year. Carbajal lead GVSU in total points and rebounds last season, and racked up 13.6 points per game and 6.7 rebounds per game in 2014.

6-foot-5-inch Trevin Alexander will look to be another reliable option for GVSU. Alexander averaged 5.7 rebounds per game last season, and flashed scoring ability both from under the basket and away. The junior put up 20 3-pointers last season, and, while the deep ball isn’t his forte, he is able to stretch the floor and draw opposing defenders away from the rim with his jump-shooting ability.

Kapustka, along with Carbajal, is one of two four-year players for GVSU. The undersized guard will patrol the perimeter and help his fellow guards facilitate the offense. Kapustka started 11 games for GVSU last season, and led the Lakers with 73 total assists. He will look to take on an expanded role for the Lakers, following the loss of Sabin from last season.

Hayes, a senior, played in just 14 games last season due to injuries. In his first three games back from injury late in the season, Hayes went on a tear, averaging 15.3 points per game. Hayes could emerge as a legitimate scoring threat for GVSU, and will handle the ball often at the top of the offense.

Junior guard Luke Ryskamp is one of the Lakers’ most dynamic scorers, as he can get to the tin and shoot from the outside with equal efficiency. Ryskamp played in all 28 of GVSU’s games last year and averaged 13 points per game. He will likely see his fair share of opportunities at the free throw line.

A large portion of the GVSU roster is still an unknown for Laker fans, and for the team itself. The Lakers have two towering freshmen in 6-foot-10-inch duo John Rexroth and Justin Greason. The two freshmen and 6-foot-8-inch sophomore Drake Baar make up the three tallest Lakers, yet the trio are still inexperienced.

“They’re capable of scoring inside, they’re capable of being really, really good in a couple of years, but we just (have to) keep working with them and making sure they know coach Wesley’s offensive and defensive principles,” Carbajal said.

Kishwaukee College transfer Juwan Starks is an attractive unknown for GVSU. Starks shot 51.7 percent from 3-point range on 203 attempts at the junior college last season, and has flashed athleticism in practice for the Lakers. If his shooting translates to the Division II level, Starks could emerge as the sharpshooter to fill Sabin’s shoes.

The Lakers will open their season on Nov. 14 at 4 p.m. against Quincy at home as part of the GLIAC/GLVC Challenge. On Nov. 15, GVSU will host University of Missouri – St. Louis also at 4 p.m. GVSU dropped both contests to the two teams last season.

“We’re looking for a championship — GLIAC championship, make the NCAA tournament,” Kapustka said. “That’s our ultimate goal, but we know that we (have to) work on getting better every day. First and foremost, that’s our main goal.”