Looking to put last season in the past, the NMU men’s basketball team heads back to the hardwood with high hopes for the 2009-2010 season.
One thing is clear this season: head basketball coach Dean Ellis is preaching consistency.
“We need to be more consistent defensively,” Ellis said. “I think as a team our team defense needs to be better, a little bit more diverse.”
Ellis, who is entering his 24th season as the head coach for the Wildcats, says the same needs to be so on the offensive end of the court.
“Offensively, we need to share the ball a little more,” he said. “Score more consistently in the post. I think that’s a big part of it.”
Helping the team overcome an 11-16 record from the 2008-09 season, including 6-16 in the GLIAC North division, will be the return of key starters senior Chris Warner, senior Marc Renelique, and sophomore Raymont McElroy. All of whom are guards for the Wildcats.
The three combine to create an explosive backcourt for NMU. McElroy returns after a freshman campaign in which he averaged 13 points an outing. Warner was named to the All-GLIAC defensive team last season averaging 10.4 points to go along with 43 steals and 17 blocks. Renelique returns after ranking first in the GLIAC in three point field goals made, knocking down 79 in 27 games.
Ellis knows that for this team to have success, all three guards will be called upon to step up.
“They’re key people in our program,” he said. “Raymont, our point guard, was freshman of the year last year and Renelique is our leading scorer and Chris Warner is our third leading scorer.”
Inside the paint, the Wildcats return big bodies in sophomore center Jared Benson, senior forward Mark D’Agostino and sophomore forward Eric Hawley. The team also brings in freshman center Mylan Murphy. All four will need to bring up a rebounding total in which the ‘Cats ranked 8th and 9th in the GLIAC in defensive and offensive rebounding respectively.
“They’re going to be in a sense four guys in a rotation for two spots,” Ellis said. “We’ll have a lot of fresh bodies in there and a lot of size there. I think those four guys need to step up and be a little more consistent in the lane rebounding defensively and offensively.”
Warner, who was the team’s leading rebounder last season averaging 5.2 a game, knows the inside men have the talent to do big things this season.
“We have capable inside guys,” he said, “It’s just a matter of those guys stepping up.”
With only one player ranked within the top 20 in the conference for rebounding, 6-foot-9-inch newcomer Murphy has Ellis excited about the possibilities this season for the Wildcats inside the post.
“I think Mylan Murphy is a newcomer that is going to be a major factor for us,” Ellis said. “He’s got major potential to score inside and outside, and he’s probably the only newcomer that will get a lot of minutes.”
Ellis felt that last season’s GLIAC race came with a couple of guarantees. One was that they probably weren’t going to beat the University of Findlay, who finished the season 36-0, and the other being that they were most likely going to beat Tiffin University at home and away. Tiffin finished the season with a dismal 2-25 record. Ellis, however, doesn’t see that being the story in a much more balanced GLIAC league this year.
“The league is very close. There’s a lot of parity, a lot of good teams. There isn’t a dominant great team like Findlay,” Ellis said.
Warner, as a senior leader for NMU, has been around the block and faced the same teams year in, year out. One thing he sees the ‘Cats have working in their favor is the return of five capable seniors, in himself, Renelique, D’Agostino, guard Austin Rowe and forward Sebastien Salois.
“I think it’s wide open,” Warner said of the GLIAC race. “A lot of teams lost some seniors so really anything can happen. As a team, we have a lot of seniors back.”
The Wildcats played the University of Michigan in an exhibition game on Nov. 14, losing the match-up 50-97. The game will not count against their season record. Despite a lopsided score, Warner still feels like the team walked away with positives from the game, including how to compete at a higher level.
“We saw how tough they played, how they spaced the floor and really how they played fast but under control the whole time, and that’s what we try for,” he said.
NMU opens up regular season play Nov. 18 when they travel to yet another Division I opponent in UW-Green Bay. Conference play begins Dec. 3 against Northwood in the Berry Events Center at 7:30 p.m.
Goals were set before the season and like in the past, Ellis knows that winning the conference leads to better things down the line.
“The conference is everyone’s goal,” Ellis said. “If you play well in your conference you’ve got a chance to move on to the conference tournament and then the national tournament.”
Along with UW-Green Bay, the Wildcats will have two other non-conference match-ups before the GLIAC season begins, including the first home game against Northland College on Nov. 24. Installing a positive offense and stingy defense before conference play will be the key in the three-game stretch, according to Ellis.
“Anyone that can get their team organized and get positive things going will have a good chance.”