GV Men’s Basketball returns with an elite veteran-heavy roster for 2021-22 season


GVL / Lauren Seymour

Holly Bihlman, Sports Editor

Last season, the Grand Valley State University men’s basketball team finished out their season in empty courts with a few lonely cutouts in the stands and crowd noise audio playing through the speakers. The Lakers made it to the GLIAC Conference Tournament where they faced Michigan Tech University in the semifinals but didn’t receive the bid for the NCAA Tournament leaving them with runner-up for the second year in a row.

This season, GVSU is welcoming back an incredibly motivated group of seniors who are using their extra year of COVID-19 eligibility to make up a veteran-driven roster. Seven seniors on the team, including Conference Player of the Year and All-GLIAC player Jake Van Tubbergen and All-GLIAC transfer Christian Negron, along with four of their fellow senior teammates from last year are coming back for their final year together.

“Obviously when you’ve got a bunch of old guys and a bunch of new guys coming in, you’re going to tease them a little bit, have your fun,” Van Tubbergen said. “But at the end of the day we’re all here trying to accomplish the same goal, so we all get along and we all have a common vision.”

Without having any experience playing together in real-time games, the team has yet to get the full feel for each other’s playing style and what they’re best at. Their first exhibition game on Nov. 4 kicks off the season at Michigan State University where the Division II Lakers will face the Division I Spartans for their first exhibition game, followed by their second and final exhibition game against the Division III Alma College at home on Nov. 6.

After these first two games to warm up the players for their season, every game is just as important as the next in their journey to the NCAA Tournament.

“We get into the season right away,” said coach Ric Wesley. “We have a tough game at the University of Indiana; it’s a crossover game, it’s an interregional rival, so we’ve got some really tough non-conference games. And then Southern Indiana, Cedarville, those are all really big games that go a long way toward building that resume, should you not win the automatic bid. You just go through the whole schedule and every game is a dog fight.”

Coming in for his 18th year as head coach for the Lakers, Coach Wesley foresees a highly motivated and experienced group of guys coming out to play this year.

“We’ve got a veteran group,” Wesley said. “We’ve had two really solid years back-to-back; we’d like to have a third, better year.”

Last season, the Lakers were ranked no. 6 in the Midwest region of the NCAA, and their competition looks to be bringing back a good number of their own veteran players as well from the COVID-19 eligibility.

The first game of the regular season begins with Indianapolis on Nov. 14, followed by two home games against Cedarville and Grace Christian on Nov. 20 and 23. Starting in early December, the first game of GLIAC play will be against Saginaw Valley State University at home for the Battle of the Valleys in the Fieldhouse Arena on Dec. 2, with the home game against Wayne State University on Dec. 4.

One of the positives about this season returning back to normal is the day off in between games, after last year’s COVID-19 protocol back-to-back games often strained their time to work on their game. However, with 14 home games on the schedule, one of the most exciting things that the players are looking forward to is having their friends, family and fans back in the arena with them.

“Everything’s going to feel real normal, it was just a lot of adjusting last year,” Negron said. “Definitely the crowd being back too, it’s just going to be nice having people that I care about, like my mom, being able to watch me play, especially since it’s my last year.”

While team goals often come down to making it all the way to a national title, Wesley wants to focus on each individual game so that their resume is full of outstanding performances and winning games when the NCAA makes selections.

“We want to be conference champions, we want to go to the NCAA tournament, we want to win a national championship too,” Negron said. “And we’re the team that just has immense confidence in each other, and so were shooting for a high goal. If you’re not trying to give it your best, then why are you doing it?”

With a lot of positive factors coming into the 2021-22 season with the Lakers, there are also always challenges and tough games to play, but with fans back in the stands and the schedule that they have lined up, it’s bound to be another incredible year for the team.