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D-1 Independents Preview

November 13, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

D-1 Independents Preview

by Brian Hassler

It isn’t easy being an Independent.

Playing without membership in a conference, and without any big-name recognition, the seven D-1 Independents have managed to piece together solid schedules.

Add to that the diamonds in the rough that many of the coaches have found, and you have the makings of an exciting season of basketball.

Utah Valley State College, the University of Northern Colorado and UC Davis will be making their respective debut’s in Division I athletics, but the excitement of Division I play can also be found with the IUPU-Fort Wayne Mastodons, Savannah State University, Texas-Pan American and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

IPFW Mastodons

IPFW coach Doug Noll will bring a team large in stature onto the court to face those big boys. IPFW enters the 2003-04 season on the heels of a 9-21 finish last year, including a victory over IUPUI, but will have the size to compete.

6-7 Ric Wyand, 6-8 Kyle Thrasher, 6-11 Jim Kessenich, 6-10 Eric Bergstrom, and 6-10 David Simon will provide the size Noll needs to match up against 10 bigger foes this season. With four returning starters, including leading scorer Kessenich (12.5 ppg) and Independent Newcomer of the Year Simon (10.6 ppg). Also returning is the one short man in guard Terry Collins. The 6-0 junior averaged 11.3 points per game, and scored a career-high 36 against UC Irvine.

Forward Keion Henderson is back from a redshirt season, and 6-3 guard Tyler Clevenger will try to replace DeAngelo Woodall, who graduated last year.

Toledo, Oregon State, Washington State, Iowa State, Purdue, West Virginia, the Miami Hurricanes, Air Force Academy, Butler, and Valparaiso highlight the schedule, which may allow the up-and-coming program to approach .500.

Northern Colorado Bears

Like UVSC, the Northern Colorado Bears enters its first Division I season with challenges in scheduling behind it and with a season opening exhibition game against Colorado State University. Games against the University of Colorado, Iowa State and Rutgers will highlight a 2003-04 season.

UNC coach Craig Rasmsuson is returning 10 players from last season’s 11-15 campaign, and will be counting on solid play from Sean Nolen, Vincent Jackson, James Randle and Erik Olsen. Nolen led UNC, averaging 18.1 points per game last season, while Jackson, Randle, and Olsen will need solid seasons in order for UNC to compete against a tougher talent level than the Division II competition it faced in 2002-03.

Savannah State Tigers

When you increase your win totals by 50 percent, normally that’s good. However, since the Savannah State program went from two wins to three – not so much. Savannah State University coach Edward Daniels enters the upcoming season with a tough schedule ahead and will rely on the size of 6-8 Sherard Reddick, the Tigers’ leading rebounder, Jamal Daniels (the coach’s son) and 6-6 Thomas Simpson.

Daniels brought in a lot of new faces as he tries to overhaul the Tigers roster. New faces include point guard Josh Barker, Darien Taylor, JuCo transfer Winston Martinez, and forward Kirk Dunn, from Brooklyn, New York.

SSU’s season highlights will include games against Marquette, University of Utah, Weber State, Miami, Air Force, Colorado, Kansas State, Tulane, Florida State, and will close out its season with a February 25 match up against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Only nine of the Tigers’ games are at home this season.

Texas A&M – Corpus Christi Islanders

Things are looking up in Corpus Christi, as the Islanders were on the verge of a .500 season last year, ending up 14-15. With four starters returning, head coach Ronnie Arrow has announced a goal of a postseason tournament for his squad.

Headlining the Islanders attack are guards Travis Bailey (15 ppg) and Brian Evans (14 ppg), along with forward Corey Lamkin (12 points and 8 boards per game. The squad is going tall, with the addition of Northeast Oklahoma JC’s Jared Holt, a 7-2 center.

The Islanders have a tough schedule ahead to accomplish their coach’s goal, as the Islanders face several Big 12 teams, including Baylor, Texas A&#38M, Oklahoma State, and Kansas State, plus home-and-home games with Air Force and Murray State.

Texas-Pan American Broncs

Last season, Coach Bob Hoffman experienced a reversal of fortune, seeing his 20-10 record in 2001-02 become a 10-20 record. Hoffman has seen great success since coming to coach the Broncs and this season should be no different.

Two starters return, including scorer and leading rebounder Allen Holcomb (11 points and 7.5 rebounds per game), along with guard Eric Montalvo (9 ppg). Three players will see action after redshirting last season: forwards Chris Fagan and Andrius Sakalys both return from injuries, and forward Matt Berry sat out after transferring from Indiana State. Hoffman went out and recruited some big men as well, landing 7-0 Lithuanian center Alvaidas Gedminas and 6-11 Ryan Lange. Gedminas was all-conference for Kirtland (Michigan) Community College last season, averaging a double-double, and Lange attended Northeast Nebraska Community College.

Hoffman will lead a team that features nine juniors and three seniors and will need that experience to kick in against Rice, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Air Force, and games against fellow Independents IPFW and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. All but four of Pan American’s 28 games are in Texas or a neighboring state.

UC Davis Aggies

Leaving behind the comfort of their successful Division II trappings, the Aggies will be led by new coach Gary Stewart and returning members Ryan Moore, Fowzi Abdelsamad, Gus Argenal, and center Madison Butts.

In nine games last year Moore averaged 16.6 points and 6.2 rebounds per contest, and will be expected to lead this young team into the rigors of Division I play. Games against Nevada-Reno and San Francisco State highlight UC-Davis’ schedule.

Utah Valley State Wolverines

The UVSC Wolverines finished the 2002-03 season with a 26-7 record overall, good enough for second place in conference play. It was Coach Dick Hunsaker’s first season at UVSC and UVSC’s final season in the SWAC.

It was a tough off-season, as UVSC lost all but four members of the 2002-03 squad, but the returning members will bring a much-needed spark. 6-1 Ronnie Price will lead UVSC’s offense and pace the young team, while Pierre Thomas will run the show at the point position and 6-6 Jon Bell will man the low post for UVSC. Freshman Ryan Toolson showcased a hot hand from the outside in UVSC’s sole exhibition game against the Salt Lake Metro All-Stars, and a strong season from 6-8 Carl Lee will be needed to get UVSC through a solid first year schedule.

Despite UVSC’s lack of RPI, actually there is no RPI, coach Hunsaker was able to schedule games with Idaho State, Kennesaw State, Boise State, Brigham Young University, Cleveland State and two games against the University of Northern Colorado.

All challenges aside, a lack of television appearances will stay with UVSC throughout its first Division I season. It appeared that the November 29 UVSC and BYU game would be played in front of a television audience, but BYU decided against the televised game.

In all, it will be six years before UVSC will be able to compete in NCAA tournaments, but the necessary changes will require that much time for UVSC to fully prepare for the big move.

So there you have it folks. Something old, something new, and a little blue. The challenges that face the smaller Division I school seem to be too large to handle, but the opportunity for a big upset is too juicy to pass up.


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