Tigers starting from scratch
The Iowa Wesleyan College men’s basketball team is starting from scratch.
With first-year head coach Todd Lorensen replacing Jess Settles and most of the experience from last season lost to graduation, the Tigers are a whole new team.
"We're starting from the ground up," Lorensen said. "Some players are in their first year, but even the returners have never worked with our staff.”
Most of the returners also spent little time on the floor last season.
The Tigers graduated their top six scorers in Kyle Warner, Jon Umoren, Derrick Nillissen, Joe Evans, Dan Missey and Cam Sanchez.
Warner, Evans and Sanchez were also the top three rebounders. Umoren, Warner, Evans, Missey and another senior, Matt Schackow, led the team in assists, while Missey, Evans, Warner and Umoren were the team’s top four in thefts.
Returner Will Stephenson, a sophomore this year, was the team’s seventh scorer and its fourth rebounder, averaging 4.6 points and 3.7 rebounds a game — but he is ineligible according to school policy until the second semester.
So for now, the Tigers are working with very little experience.
“We started from the basics — not only what we want to do on offense and defense, but how we want to conduct ourselves off the court: when we do team meals, how we travel, everything,” Lorensen said.
The team is young, consisting of just three seniors and three juniors. They’ll have five sophomores and eight freshmen.
"We'll try not to worry about wins and losses, but the process of becoming a better team and a better program," Lorensen said. "We want to get better every day, and believe that the wins and losses will take care of themselves."
The Tigers will look to their small group of upperclassmen to lead the way. Lorensen believes their experience in time management as a collegiate athlete will be a key factor in the success of this team.
“Marquise Lewis has done a tremendous job leading the team and we fully expect that to continue,” said Lorensen.
Along with Stephenson and Lewis, the Tigers have five other players back from last year's roster: sophomores Joe Lennon, James McBride and Murray Schwengels, junior Cody Tilk and senior Micah Slifer.
They add senior Duane Lee, who has been member of the IWC football and track teams.
There are a few other newcomers who will have to step up for the young team.
"We've got a handful," Lorensen said. "Chris Martin — he’s a freshman from Bellevue, Neb. — has the make-up of a leader. I've coached his brother, so I kind of knew what I was getting. He's tough, mentally and physically. And Max Kearns was a second-team all-state selection in 3A last year.”
Kearns played for Vinton-Shellsburg, which competed in the state tournament last season.
He had a class-high 184 assists and averaged 11 points per game on 41.7 percent shooting. He also led his team with 42 steals and grabbed 100 rebounds, third-highest on his team.
“He's just got to grow up in a hurry, from a physical standpoint,” Lorensen said.
Whether new or returners, Lorensen believes that character of the players is the strength of the IWC basketball program.
“We recruit specific kids for a reason and our staff feels that the group we have are young men of high character and are hard workers in the classroom and on the court,” Lorensen said. “I’m excited to watch them develop and grow here at IWC.”
Lorensen is assisted this season by second-year coach Alex Edwards and new coach Alex Huisman. Lorensen, who comes to IWC from Truman State University, and Huisman, who was an assistant at Upper Iowa, have played against each other in the past and have met on the road while recruiting — now they’ll be working together at IWC.
The Tigers’ schedule includes a full slate of St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference games for the first time, as well as some tough games against NCAA DI schools.
IWC has already played Drake in an exhibition game, and will face the University of Nebraska-Omaha and the University of South Dakota later this season.
"When we go to those schools to play, the guys get really excited, and you want a team that will play excited," Lorensen said. "When we play the game, we want to compete every possession.”
The Tigers start the season with a long stretch of road games.
“Our home opener on Dec. 4 should be a great night for our players, program, IWC, and the community,” Lorensen said.
The Tigers host Westminster that night; tip off is scheduled at 8 p.m.
Their season officially opens tomorrow (Saturday) at Cornell College in Mt. Vernon at 7:30 p.m.