Warming up: GVSU men’s basketball making the most of preseason contests

GVL/ Sheila Babbitt 
Justin Greason goes in for a layup during the scrimmage against Macomb on Sunday October 22, 2017

GVL/ Sheila Babbitt Justin Greason goes in for a layup during the scrimmage against Macomb on Sunday October 22, 2017

Robbie Triano

As all Grand Valley State fall sports begin to either start playoffs or say farewell to their season, the core winter sports will finally have a chance to compete in action after a seemingly long offseason. 

One of those sports teams busy in preparation is GVSU men’s basketball, which has already kicked off preseason action in preparation for the regular-season opener against the University of Missouri-St. Louis Friday, Nov. 10, in Big Rapids, Michigan.

Although the outcomes of preseason contests will not affect their overall record, the GVSU coaching staff, led by head coach Ric Wesley, treats the preparation and post-game adjustments the same as in season.

“It’s just like taking a quiz in school,” Wesley said. “The tests are where the bulk of the grades come from, but if you don’t study for the quiz, you’re going to hurt yourself in the long run.”

The Lakers opened up preseason play against crosstown opponent Hope College, where the Lakers took care of the Flying Dutchmen by a 84-72 final score at the DeVos Fieldhouse Tuesday, Oct. 31. The game was added last week after the NCAA allowed teams one more preseason contest as long as the proceeds went toward the American Red Cross to help those recently devastated by the southern hurricanes. More than 1,100 people attended the event.

GVSU shot an impressive 52.6 percent from the field (30-57), with eight of those field goals coming from behind the three-point arc. Sophomore guard Lance Dollison led the Lakers with 15 points, while senior Chris Dorsey and sophomore Ben Lubitz both added 14. 

With last season’s top three scorers graduating from the team, the Lakers have taken advantage of the preseason opportunities to establish and experiment with various lineups, defenses and offensive schemes before the start of the year. For Wesley, a major part of this year’s coaching has been finding what buttons to push to motivate his players. 

“Every player and team is a little bit different from each other,” Wesley said. “Luckily for us, basketball is a unique sport where energy and aggressiveness has this element where if you set up a player to succeed, he will run through a wall like a defensive lineman. But then there’s the times you need to be in chill mode when you’re trying to do the fine motor skills like shooting. It’s all about finding the balance, and our team is looking for that.”

Although the team will find difficulty replacing past talent, the Lakers are confident with the returning players and newcomers stepping up. One transfer who has turned heads is former Central Michigan Chippewa guard Hunter Hale. The former McDonald’s All-American nominee from Kalamazoo Central played 11 games at CMU but only scored 8 points and made four rebounds. 

“He’s a good worker, shooter and scorer,” Wesley said. “He’s a very instinctive guy that will be a spark plug that can have some big scoring nights off. We’ve been very happy with him, and you can never have enough shooters.”

Returning back for the Lakers is junior Zach West, who started 22 games and logged 25 minutes per contest during his GLIAC All-Academic Team season last year. Although he only averaged 4.9 points, West is known for his ability on the defensive end, as he led the team with 38 steals while averaging 4.6 rebounds a game. Wesley has noticed the jump in his game coming into this season.

“People really notice the scoring, but he just does a lot of things to help our team,” Wesley said. “He’s just a tough, hard-nosed guy who generally doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. He’s incredibly solid on defense and one of our few physical players.”

The season is about one week away, but the Lakers will face one final yet tall task as they face the University of Michigan in their final exhibition game Friday, Nov. 3, at the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Although the Lakers don’t have that much time in a shortened week to prepare for the contest, there’s obviously pressure to have a great showing against an acclaimed Division I program.

“We’re still trying to figure us out, so this game is about just doing what we do,” Wesley said. “But it’s going to be a good challenge and experience for us. (Michigan) coach John Beilein is fantastic, and it’s a beautiful place to play.”