Sabin, reloaded Lakers look to take next step

GVL / Robert Mathews
Ricardo Carbajal finishing off a dunk during the Lakers loss to Saginaw Valley State.

GVL / Archive

GVL / Robert Mathews Ricardo Carbajal finishing off a dunk during the Lakers loss to Saginaw Valley State.

Jay Bushen

The senior leader from last year may have graduated, but it seems the legacy he left lives on.

The Grand Valley State men’s basketball team, which fell in the first round of GLIAC Tournament last season after finishing with the fifth-best record in the conference, learned a valuable lesson from point guard Rob Woodson: that college hoops is about playing with nothing to lose.

“We’ve all got to have that senior mentality,” said senior guard Ryan Sabin. “You saw it with Rob last year on his way out. He just dominated because when you get to that point in your career you have nothing to lose. If we all, even the freshman, can get that senior mentality – I think that will be huge.

“We’re all fighting for a championship. None of us have had any taste of that – we haven’t done much since I’ve been here. We’ve had good seasons, but we haven’t been able to get over the hump. That’s the biggest thing. It’s got to feel different than the other years. We’ve got to have a sense of urgency.”

Sabin, an All-GLIAC First Team honoree, figures to be the workhorse after leading GVSU in scoring (14.6 PPG), minutes (36.0 per game), free-throw percentage (.780) and 3-pointers made (69).

The Byron Center High School product has made 146 career triples, the 10th-most in school history.

“Being a fourth-year guy, he’s kind of a marked man,” said GVSU coach Ric Wesley. “I don’t know if there’s anything in terms of his game that he has to get better at. He’s a pretty well-rounded player.

“I just think it’s his mental approach, being ready for the types of aggressive, physical, hard-nosed defense that’s going to be coming at him. Being able to keep himself at a good place confidence-wise, maintaining his swagger even when things might not necessarily be going as easy as he likes.”

The backcourt talent doesn’t end with Sabin, as sophomore starter Luke Ryskamp returns to the mix with juniors Darren Kapustka and Ernijs Ansons. Ryskamp figures to bring offensive firepower to the starting lineup while the clutch shooting of Kapustka and pesky defensive play of Ansons add options.

Junior point guard Aaron Hayes, meanwhile, appears to be Woodson’s replacement once he returns from injury. Hayes, a 6-foot-1 transfer from Oakland Community College who can get to the free-throw line, has earned his teammates’ respect after competing on GVSU’s practice squad a year ago.

“He is super talented,” Sabin said. “He’s a dynamic scorer, he’s unselfish and he really has an upside – his ceiling is unlimited. He can be very, very good for us. Just him getting comfortable is the biggest thing. We’ve got to get him in the lineup, he’s been hurt a little bit.”

Hayes, Ryskamp and Sabin should have plenty of help from a five-man group of bigs in the low post.

Ricky Carbajal, an All-GLIAC North Division Preseason Second Team selection, was GVSU’s offensive leader in the paint last year, finishing third on the team with 10.7 points per game. The 6-foot-6 junior said the entire group of bigs has made strides offensively in the offseason.

“Everyone’s game has gotten way better from last year,” Carbajal said of the frontcourt. “Our shooting has gotten way better with each of us individually, and our post moves have been better.”

Senior forward and tenacious rebounder Chaz Rollins will be the early-season starter at center, although senior shot-blocker Darren Washington and sophomore Trevin Alexander both have experience with the first team. Drake Baar, a 6-foot-8 freshman (Comstock Park, Mich.), will also contribute.

Wesley said the interchangeable group’s ability to chip in offensively will be important.

“We’ve encouraged them all to add some weapons to their game, whether it’s ball handling or shooting a little farther out, and I think they’ve embraced that and we’ve seen the effects of it in our practices,” Wesley said. “We need that. You talk about Ryan Sabin. The more other guys can score, do things and put less pressure on him – the more weapons we have – the better team we’re going to be.”

If the weapons from last year’s team continue to progress and the incoming talent is as good as advertised, then GVSU certainly has the potential to be a dangerous team in the GLIAC.

Woodson won’t be in the starting lineup when Sabin and the Lakers begin their season tonight but, if they can play with nothing to lose, it could be the start of a successful 2014-15 campaign.

“It goes by fast,” Sabin said. “It’s crazy. This is my fourth year so just savoring the moment is the biggest thing. You don’t get this back, so I’m just trying to take it day by day and have fun.”

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