Bearcats Have Many Questions as '03-'04 Season Opens Tonight

SALEM: The Willamette University men’s basketball team enters this season in search of answers to a number of glaring questions as they open play tonight in the Western Baptist Classic tonight at 6 pm against Warner Pacific. Tomorrow night the Bearcats face host Western Baptist at 8 pm.

First and foremost, is the question of who will step up to fill the void left by the graduation of all-NWC performers Ryan Hepp and Marques Johnson. Both three year starters, Hepp and Johnson combined for over 2000 points and were the leaders of a stifling Bearcat defense.

Second, with the loss of those two graduates and 3-year captain BJ Dobrovsky (who will join the team as a coach this season), who will step up to fill that leadership void?

One question that won’t need answering is who is the leader of the Bearcats? Head Coach Gordie James returns for his 17th season as Bearcat coach. Last year, James became the all-time leader in wins at Willamette (279-159). His team won the NAIA national championship in 1993 and the Bearcats made it to the final of the NWC tournament the past two seasons.

Joining James on the sidelines will be longtime assistant Wally Wing (17th season), and former players Nelson Lomax (5th year), Kip Ioane (3rd yr) and Dobrovosky (1st yr.).

As far as this year’s version of the Bearcats, three starters return, though two will move to new positions. Captain Miles Sandgathe will take over the power forward spot from Johnson, bringing his league-leading three point shooting and overall toughness as the spiritual leader of the Bearcats.

Harold Sublett Jr. moves to small forward and senior Ryan Rahlfs will start the season at center. Last year’s starter, sophomore Brennan Garrelts is recovering from a broken hand suffered in a preseason game.

Other starters are projected to be David Force at point guard and transfer student Jon Olinger at shooting guard.

And that leads to one final question: How will the relatively inexperienced Bearcats fare in the NWC this season? Defending champion Whitworth returns league MVP Bryan Depew. Linfield is led by all-NWC point guard AJ Gulley. Pacific Lutheran welcomes back Jonathan Anderson and a great deal of size in the front court. Puget Sound returns leading scorer Matt Glynn, and perennial contender Lewis and Clark will welcome back all-NWC player John Mietus from a one-year hiatus.