Kip's Corner 2008-09: Bearcat Hoop Internet Release #1

By Kip Ioane

Willamette Heads to Idaho to Open 2008-09 Season:
The Willamette University men’s basketball team opens a season full of potential on the road this weekend (Friday, Nov. 21 and Saturday, Nov. 22) at the Golden Rule Shootout in Caldwell, Idaho. Head Coach Gordie James and the Bearcats will take on NAIA Cascade Conference members College of Idaho (Friday at 8 p.m. MST/7 p.m. PST) and Eastern Oregon (Saturday at 6 p.m. MST/5 p.m. PST) on the campus of the College of Idaho. The games are rematches of last year’s opening weekend, in which Willamette defeated the host Coyotes, 72-63, but fell to the Mountaineers of Eastern Oregon, 95-88.

Preseason Expectations
Willamette enters the season with four returning starters from last year’s team that tied for third place in the NWC standings. This year in the NWC Preseason Poll, the conference coaches have picked WU to finish third again, behind the University of Puget Sound and Whitworth University. It is the third time in the last seven years that WU has been picked third, (including the 2002-03 and 2006-07 campaigns), with the 2002-03 squad finishing as the runner-upin the NWC and the 2006-07 team finishing sixth.

The Returning Bearcats
Willamette returns several major contributors from last year’s team, along with a nucleus of players who will see their roles and minutes increase this year:

Returning Starters:
Kyler McClary (Post), Robbie Kunke (Point Guard), Corey Costantino (Wing), Tain Cantrell (Post)

McClary was a Second Team All-NWC choice a year ago, and is WU’s leading returning scorer (17.2 points per game). Kunke dished out 139 assists as a freshman point guard a year ago, while Costantino led the team in scoring in the NWC Tournament, and Cantrell was the team’s best post defender.

Other Returning Players:
Cameron Mitchell (Post), Nick Babij (Wing), Simon Currie (Wing), Ricky Thompson (Wing), Marcus Holmes (Point Guard)

Mitchell was among the conference leaders in double-doubles last year. He will move into the starting lineup this year, along with Babij, who is perhaps the team’s best overall defender. Currie will see time at three different positions. Thompson’s ability to get into a gap in the defense and score will be utilized on the wing. Holmes is maybe WU’s most improved player.

Newcomers Bring Mix of Experience, Enthusiasm
The Bearcats will have four new members in the fold from a year ago. All of them will play a role in the overall success of the team.

“Veteran" Newcomers:
Josh Erickson (Point Guard), Robbie Wood (Wing)

Erickson is back after recovering from his third anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) surgery, and will combine with Kunke and Holmes to give WU one of the premier groups of point guards in the NWC. Wood (a high school teammate of Erickson’s at Keizer’s McNary HS) comes over from Chemeketa Community College. He can play all three perimeter spots.

Freshman Newcomers:
Taylor Mounts (Post), Zach Lange (Wing/Post)

Mounts brings instant offense to the Bearcats off the bench, and Lange might be the team’s most athletic player. Each has been impressive in the early portion of practices, and both could factor into the rotation during the season.

Projected Depth Chart for this Weekend

Point Guard
Starter - Robbie Kunke
Back-up - Josh Erickson/Marcus Holmes

Shooting Guard
Starter - Corey Costantino
Back-up - Ricky Thompson

Starter - Nick Babij
Back-up - Rob Wood/Simon Currie

Starter - Kyler McClary
Back-up - Tain Cantrell

Starter - Cameron Mitchell
Back-up - Taylor Mounts/Simon Currie

Battling the Cascade
Willamette’s non-conference schedule will once again include a number of teams from the NAIA's Cascade Conference. WU’s schedule features College of Idaho, Eastern Oregon, Southern Oregon University and Corban College in November and December. Willamette and other Northwest Conference teams from NCAA Division III will battle Cascade Conference opponents a number of times over the pre-NWC portion of the schedule. The Corner will post an updated Win/Loss record for both conferences each week.

Scouting the Opponents
College of Idaho is member of the Cascade Conference and is an NAIA institution. The Coyotes, led by Head Coach Mark Owen, are currently 0-4 and are coming off two losses at the Las Vegas Classic at Desert Oasis High School in Las Vegas, Nev. The top scorer for the Coyotes is Craig McGee, who is averaging 16.8 points per game.

Eastern Oregon is also a member of the Cascade Conference and the NAIA. Head Coach Ryan Looney’s team is 4-0, continuing the momentum gained from last year’s Cascade Conference championship. The Mountaineers currently have five players averaging in double figures, led by Kris Groce with 14.8 points per game.

Kyler McClary averaged 17.2 points per game in 2007-08.

Kyler McClary averaged 17.2 points per game in 2007-08.