Men’s basketball team reloads for new season

2009-10 MEN’S BASKETBALL PREVIEW

From left: Phil Negri, Dustin Mitchell and Chris Vines are the only players returning for the 2009-10 season who played significant minutes last year - a season that saw the Warhawks advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament. Photo by Lindsey Rients.
More than 70 percent of its scoring is gone.

All five of its starters from last year’s NCAA second round tournament game against eventual national champion, Washington University, are gone.

And the team no longer has the luxury of letting Myles McKay, now playing in the Czech Republic and Matt Goodwin, a former All-American, run the offense like they did the last two years.

A problem?

Maybe for some programs, but as the men’s basketball team begins the new season this weekend with two games beginning Friday against Carthage College at 7 p.m., head coach Pat Miller is ready to face these hurdles head on.

“It’s always tough to see the seniors go,” Miller said of last year’s five seniors. “But now we have a new team with new challenges and new dynamics. It’s re-energizing to an extent.”

But these challenges do concern 6-foot-9 center Dustin Mitchell, one of the team’s two seniors.

“At times it’s a struggle,” said Mitchell, who averaged 9.6 points per game and 4.8 rebounds last year.

Mitchell will be relied upon, along with juniors Phil Negri and Chris Vines, who are the only returning players who competed in the NCAA tournament, to carry the load this season.

“I think having those three guys as a nucleus is a great start,” Miller said. “Number-wise I’m confident all of them can increase their productivity fairly easily.”

New Roles

But their roles will be drastically different in 2009-10.

Neither Mitchell, Vines or Negri averaged at least 20 minutes per game last season.

Nevertheless, Negri, who shot almost 50 percent from three-point range, will be the starter at the shooting guard position. Vines, who led the team in shooting percentage during the two NCAA tournament games last year, will be the starting small forward.

Mitchell has been here for five seasons, but this is the first time he will be the primary scorer.

Negri said with Vines and Mitchell, the ’Hawks should not miss a beat offensively.

“Last year, we were real athletic, and we got up and down,” Negri said. “This year we’re going to get the ball inside and stick with it. Chris and Dustin are inside scorers first and foremost. Along with the new guys, we’re going to play with anyone talent-wise.”

One new player is D.J. Dantzler, a transfer from Division II UW-Parkside, who is the projected starting point guard.

Additionally, Michael Bendall, who medical redshirted last year and had played at UW-Milwaukee and UW-Parkside earlier in his college career, is in line to replace Kori Vernon at the power forward position.

But Mitchell said building a new team offers challenges.

“It’s really tough to totally say you can replace some of these guys, but we’re trying to put the puzzle together,” Mitchell said.

Another new player added to the puzzle is Lucas Burns, a transfer from Division II Concordia University-St. Paul (Minn.).

National Contender

Despite the departures, the ’Hawks are still seen as a national contender, however.

UW-Whitewater begins the season as D3hoops.com’s No. 13-ranked team in the country and are predicted second in the WIAC.

Vines does not care about preseason predictions.

“I’d rather not be ranked,” Vines said. “I’d rather be under the radar. Because when we come, we’re going to come hard.”

Negri explained the team has been fortunate to continually reload.

“There’s only a handful of teams that have a real shot of competing for a national championship every year,” Negri said. “We’re blessed to have the talent. With that luxury, we hope to put it together at the right time and make a push at the end of the season.”

Mitchell said the way last season ended (a three-point loss in the final seconds to Washington) motivated him for his final year.

“It was a very bitter taste in my mouth,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do to get to where we want to be in the conference and as a national contender. But I think we can do it. We got a good core nucleus.

“I hope to get to the tournament and hopefully our last game is in that national championship game.”

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