Defending champs have ‘positive upside’

 

By Zach Hicks

The Warhawk men’s basketball team, ranked No. 3 in d3hoops.com’s top 25 poll, will look to defend their NCAA National Championship from last season beginning Saturday, when they’ll host Beloit College. After losing the national player of the year, forward Chris Davis to graduation, the Warhawks will rely on the experience gained by many of their returning players from last season’s title run.

“I think we definitely have the potential to get another national championship,” junior guard Eric Bryson said. “We’re definitely a very talented team. It’s just about getting that same chemistry that we had last year and coming together as a group.”

The ’Hawks lost only two players to graduation who averaged more than 15 minutes a game last season: Davis and forward Alex Edmunds.

After losing depth in the front court with the departures of Davis and Edmunds, the ’Hawks will rely on the continuation of the balanced guard play from junior Cody Odegaard (7.6 ppg), Bryson (8.6 ppg), junior Alex Merg (6.1 ppg, 4.2 assists) and sophomore Quardell Young (6.6 ppg) that helped navigate them through the NCAA Tournament last season.

“[Guard play] really did [help us get to the national championship last year],” head coach Pat Miller said. “The thing about this group of guys we have is that they all do different things: Odegaard is a flat out shooter, Bryson has a lot of versatility in rebounding and making basketball plays, Merg is a great perimeter defender and very solid running our offense and Quardell Young is a great penetrator.”

One player who is new to the team this season is freshman Darnell Harris. Harris originally committed to Division-I Cleveland State University, but ended up at UW-W.

Harris attended Milwaukee Hamilton High School his first three years, eventually transferring to La Jolla Prep in San Diego, Calif. for his senior year. Harris was ranked as the 29th small forward in the Class of 2012 by ESPN. Miller said he plans to use Harris on the perimeter as well as down low on the block, similar to how Davis was utilized.

“He’s not as physical as Chris [Davis] right now but has better length,” Miller said. “He has good moves around the basket and can step out and shoot three pointers. He’s just a freshman, so even though he has Division-I ability out of high school, he still has a lot to learn. He’s worked hard so I think he’ll continue to improve as we move along.”

With the young Harris added to the mix, another post player who will be heavily relied on this year is fourth year junior Luke Knoble. Miller was quick to praise Knoble’s work ethic and said the team will count on him this year. Knoble averaged 9.7 ppg and 4.8 rpg last season.

Players such as Knoble and Bryson stepping forward to lead this season, will ensure a smoother transition for Harris, Minnesota State-Mankato transfer guard Miles Chamberlain and other newcomers.

“All the returners are taking that leadership role saying, ‘hey this is what you’ve got to do and be at on offense,’” Bryson said. “We’re just trying to take the steps toward where our chemistry was last season when we won that national championship.”

With a high ranking nationally and hardware fresh from last season’s tournament, expectations are high for Miller’s ’Hawks.

“Do I think we’re capable of [winning another title]? Yes. Do we have to get a lot better, develop and progress as a team? The answer is certainly ‘yes’ there as well,” he said. “It’s exciting to start the year with a group that is talented, with a core group of returning players that I think will continue to improve. I think this team definitely has a positive upside.”

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