Basketball upperclassmen lead team to strong start

GVL Archive / Nicole Lamson
Junior Nick Waddell drives to the basket during a game earlier this season

GVL Archive / Nicole Lamson Junior Nick Waddell drives to the basket during a game earlier this season

Brady Fredericksen

Team chemistry is one of the most important factors that go into the success of any basketball team. Talent is an obvious necessity, but continuity between teammates can be the most crucial part of a team’s success.

This season, the Grand Valley State University men’s basketball team has looked not only to their talent, but also to their chemistry to create something special.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever been involved with a team that was successful and didn’t have great chemistry,” said seventh-year GVSU head coach Ric Wesley. “Most of the time it’s not as much a lack of talent that causes teams to not do well, but it’s a just pulling apart from within.”

The team, which returned 12 players from last year’s NCAA Tournament squad, has seen consistent production out of its returning players in senior Justin Ringler (14.2 points per game) and junior Alvin Storrs (2.14 steals per game). Ringler, a Sporting News preseason All-American, and Storrs enter the season as GVSU’s All-GLIAC team representatives.

“As a team, we’re really trying to focus on one goal at a time,” said senior guard K’Len Morris, who has averaged 6.1 points per game so far this season. “We know that if we can accomplish each one, it will lead to us closer to fighting for the national championship.”

After a first-place finish in the GLIAC North Division last season, the Lakers have gotten out to a fast start in 2011. Before Wednesday night’s game against Northwood University, the team sat atop the division with a perfect 7-0 conference record and a 12-2 overall record.

But the team has seen it’s national ranking fluctuate throughout the first half of the season. After sitting at No. 5 in the pre-season NABC/Division II Men’s Basketball Poll, the Lakers have suffered two non-conference losses and have fallen to No. 15.

“We really don’t spend a lot of time talking about (the rankings), but it’s nice to know that people think well about our team,” Wesley said. “At the same time generally we’re ranked below another team (No. 1 University of Findlay) in our conference as well as other teams in our region. That’s a pretty good sign that there’s tough times ahead, and it’s the team that perseveres through those times that will be higher in the rankings at the end.”

The staple of Wesley-coached teams at GVSU, which consistently rank near the top of the conference in defense, is no different this season. After leading the conference in defensive field goal percentage last season (.406), the Laker defense has been formidable in only 58.2 points per game prior to Wednesday’s matchup.

“We just try to pick up our defensive intensity for 40 minutes every game,” said junior guard James Thomas. “It’s hard to keep that intensity up for 40 minutes a game, but we’re going to keep working on it every day.”

Team defense will be the biggest key to success in the conference season, but a wild-card will be the play of red-shirt freshman Asauhn Tatum. A 6-foot-11-inch center from Indiana, Tatum has drawn comparisons to former Laker great Callistus Eziukwu. While still only a freshman, he had a career-high seven blocks against Lake Superior State on Saturday. His blocking and rebounding have been catalysts for the defense.

Before the game against Northwood, Tatum sat atop the team standings in blocks with 29.

“(Tatum) has great length, and we expect him to protect the basket and rebound the ball. That’s what he has to do,” Wesley said.

Only seven games into the conference season, GVSU will look to continue their winning ways. Looming match-ups with No. 1 Findlay, No. 10 Hillsdale College and the 131 Showdown against Ferris State University should prove to be worthy challenges for the Lakers.

“Our focus is on working hard every day and building our r?©sum?©, so hopefully we can be one of those 64 teams playing in the postseason,” Wesley said. “You know, we talk a lot about doing our very best each and every day, and to me, if you’re good enough to get to the NCAA Tournament, then anything can happen.”

After enjoying a brief three-game stint at home, the Lakers will hit the road to take on Hillsdale Saturday at 1 p.m. [email protected]