Willamette Men's Basketball Season Outlook

By Kip Ioane, Assistant Coach, or Robert McKinney, Athletics Communications Director, (503) 370-6110

SALEM, ORE. -- The Willamette University men’s basketball team enters the 2008-09 campaign with an exciting blend of experience and youth, size and speed, potential and expectations. Head Coach Gordie James enters his 22nd season at the helm of the Bearcats with an exciting group of players.

Leading the team will be returning Second Team All-Northwest Conference performer Kyler McClary (Sr, Post, Hillsboro, OR/Glencoe HS), senior wing Corey Costantino (Ashland, OR/Ashland, HS) and junior post Cameron Mitchell (Jr., Portland, OR/Grant HS). With a steady core of returning players plus enthusiastic newcomers, the Bearcats (picked 3rd in the NWC Preseason Poll) are poised for a breakout campaign.

2007-08 in Review:

Willamette overcame a slow start to the season, got hot at the right time and won 7 of 9 games in February to earn the third and final spot in the NWC Tournament. Despite falling at the University of Puget Sound twice in the final six days of the season (127-121 in 2 OTs and 87-82 in the tournament), Willamette rode the play of senior Michael Smith and McClary back into the thick of NWC contention.

The Bearcats were 6-2 at home, using the energy of a large and lively crowd to inspire their play in clutch home wins down the stretch. Costantino and Mitchell, along with point guard Robbie Kunke (a freshman last year), each played key roles during the season, developing their games as the season progressed.

2008-09 Backcourt:

Kunke (So., Clackamas, OR/Clackamas HS) returns to the Bearcats’ point guard role, hoping to build on a solid rookie campaign that saw him hand out 139 assists (5.3 avg.). Joining him and giving amazing depth to a key position will be junior Marcus Holmes (Jr., Seattle, WA/Garfield HS) and senior Josh Erickson (Grad., Keizer, OR/McNary HS).

Holmes is perhaps WU’s most improved player and will see his first extensive action in a WU uniform this year. Erickson, in the meantime, is perhaps the comeback story of the year, returning to the court after three anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) surgeries. In addition, when WU’s successful football season concludes, quarterback Grant Leslie (Sr., Bainbridge Island, WA/Bainbridge HS) will join the Bearcats, adding athleticism and experience.

Costantino is the starter at the #2 spot (wing). He is perhaps the Bearcats’ most explosive player. WU will count on him to create offensive chances and to be a stopper on defense.

Ricky Thompson (So., Wing, Temecula, CA/Temecula Valley HS) moves over from the backup #1 spot (point guard) a year ago to get more minutes behind Costantino at the #2 position. Thompson’s ability to harass ball handlers and get into open areas on offense will be utilized more effectively with him playing on the wing.

2008-09 Frontcourt:

McClary and Mitchell will be counted on to shoulder a heavy load for WU this season, and each appears to be up to the task. Combining McClary’s inside/out shooting ability with Mitchell’s relentless board work should provide an advantage to the Bearcats on both ends of the court.

Tain Cantrell (Sr., Post, Beaverton, OR/Westview HS), a starter a year ago, and Taylor Mounts (Kailua, HI/Iolani School), a freshman, will see action at both post positions off the bench. Both are versatile inside players who can handle the basketball and guard the other team in the paint. Zach Lange (Fr., Wing, Sisters, OR/Sister HS) could also factor into the mix here due to his athleticism and effort.

Nick Babij (Sr., Wing, Ontario, OR/Ontario HS) and Simon Currie (Sr., Wing, Bend, OR/Mountain View HS) will see a majority of the minutes at the #3 spot (wing). Babij is perhaps the team’s best defender and Currie may be its most versatile player (as he will see time at both the wing and post spots during the season).

Newcomer Robert Wood (Jr., Keizer, OR/McNary HS/Clackamas CC) rejoins former high school teammate Erickson, and has already shown a solid understanding of WU’s defensive system and an ability to find a way to the basket. A majority of his minutes will come at one of the wing positions.

2008-09 Schedule:

Willamette faces another difficult task on its way to achieving an outstanding season. The ‘Cats open the year with an exhibition game against NCAA Division II opponent Western Oregon University, followed by a trip to Caldwell, Idaho, for the Golden Rule Shootout and games against NAIA teams College of Idaho and Eastern Oregon University.

WU plays College of Idaho on Friday, Nov. 21 at 8 p.m. (MST)/7 p.m. (PST). The Bearcats will take on Eastern Oregon on Saturday, Nov. 22 at 6 p.m. (MST)/5 p.m. (PST).

As usual, the Northwest Conference will be strong, with defending champion Whitworth University, runner-up Puget Sound and rival Lewis & Clark College all poised for solid campaigns. In addition, Whitman College welcomes former Puget Sound coach Eric Bridgeland, who won three NWC titles with the Loggers.

Kyler McClary averaged 17.2 points and 5.8 rebounds per game last season.

Kyler McClary averaged 17.2 points and 5.8 rebounds per game last season.

Corey Costantino scored 10.3 points per game in 2007-08.

Corey Costantino scored 10.3 points per game in 2007-08.

Cameron Mitchell shot 58.6% from the field as a sophomore.

Cameron Mitchell shot 58.6% from the field as a sophomore.