Willamette Ready to Open Regular Season in Southern California

Bearcats to Take on Caltech and La Verne This Weekend

By Timothy Walsh, Athletics Communications Writer

SALEM, ORE. -- Buoyed by a solid group of returning players and an excellent recruiting class, the Willamette University men's basketball team is excited to open the 2013-14 regular season.

"As a coaching staff, we are very excited to get this group out in front of people to show off their unselfishness," said sixth-year Bearcat head coach Kip Ioane. "We've always been able to put points on the board, but this group's ability to do it efficiently and with assists is special."

The Roster

Despite losing five of the team's top seven scorers from last season, Ioane expects this year's upperclassmen to step right in and fill those holes.

Avery Manu (Sr., W, Pocatello, ID/Highland HS), one of Bearcats' few returning players with starting experience, will both facilitate and participate in Willamette's offensive attack.

"[Avery] has gained a great feel for when to attack and when to create for others," Ioane said. "He could have an All-NWC type year."

Another senior in the Bearcats' starting lineup will be Alex Hansen (W, Reno, NV/Galena HS). After primarily serving as a point guard his first three years at Willamette, Hansen will begin the year at the "two" spot.

"Alex has blossomed after moving over," Ioane said. "He earned himself a starting job."

Two other seniors, Noah Ripley (P, Springfield, OR/Springfield Senior HS) and Rich Vasquez (P, Paradise Valley, AZ/Paradise Valley HS/Scottsdale CC) are each expected to contribute significantly, providing Willamette with one of its deepest front lines in several years.

Ioane expects Alex Brown (F, Happy Valley, OR/Clackamas HS) and Talanoa Smith (G, Pago Pago, American Samoa/Tafuna HS) to both step into the starting lineup alongside Manu and Hansen, and to lead a talented junior class.

"We thought when we brought this group in that they had a chance to do some special things for us," Ioane said. "As a group, I think they are very hungry to get things rolling here."

Brown, who reached double-figures four times last season, including a 16 point, eight rebound performance against Pacific University on Jan. 25, will be the Bearcats' primary weapon at the "four" spot.

Backing Brown up is Brandon Luedtke (So., F, Meridian, ID/Mountain View HS). In Willamette's exhibition loss to NCAA Division II Northwest Nazarene last week, Luedtke led WU in scoring and rebounding, with 16 points and eight boards in the contest.

Kyle McNally (Jr., F, Salem, OR/Sprague HS) will also factor into the rotation after starting 23 games last season. Primarily known as a defensive player, McNally has spent much of the offseason working on becoming a greater offensive threat.

Joseph Jackson (Jr., W, Hillsboro, OR/Hillsboro HS) will be the Bearcats' primary weapon from three-point range. He connected of four of seven attempts from distance against Northwest Nazarene.

Willamette will also look for contributions from a talented group of newcomers, including Jake Stevens (Fr., F, Eagle ID, Eagle HS), Hayden Russell (Fr., G, Woodland, CA/Da Vinci HS), and Jared Baumgartner (Fr., W, Albany, OR/Crescent Valley HS).

"Jake Stevens has a chance to be very good for us right away," Ioane said. "His size and length combined with his strength and agility is rare at this level."

"Hayden Russell has adjusted very well to our style and will see time behind Talanoa [Smith]," Ioane added. "Jared Baumgartner is very disruptive defensively, and his defensive ability is helping us compete day in and day out in practice."

The Schedule

Willamette opens its 2013-14 season this weekend, with a pair of games in Southern California. The Bearcats open the season on Friday, Nov. 15 at the California Institute of Technology, then travel to the University of La Verne on Saturday, Nov. 16.

Both games are set to tip off at 7 p.m. Fans of Bearcat Hoop can follow Friday night's game using Caltech's live video and live stats. La Verne will provide live stats for Saturday's game.

Willamette will return to Cone Field House for their home opener next Saturday, Nov. 23, for a 7 p.m. game against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.

Other schedule highlights include matchups with local rivals Western Oregon University and Corban College in the Capital City Classic on Nov. 27 and 29, and a stretch of six straight home games between Dec. 28 and Jan. 10. The Bearcats begin NWC play on Jan. 3, 2014 at home against Whitman College.

All of Willamette's NWC games, home and away, will be broadcast on the Bearcat Network, with veteran play-by-play man Mike Allegre calling the action. 

"The league is as solid as it has been," Ioane said. "The Whits [Whitman and Whitworth] have jumped out in front of all of us the last five years, but I think that has only forced the other seven schools to up their level as well."

"Our focus is to be playing somewhere on February 26 [the start of the NWC tournament]," Ioane added. "We are determined to do that."

Junior forward Alex Brown will provide Willamette with size and scoring this year. He reached double-figures four times last season.

Junior forward Alex Brown will provide Willamette with size and scoring this year. He reached double-figures four times last season.

Third-year starter Avery Manu will help run the Bearcats' offense this season.

Third-year starter Avery Manu will help run the Bearcats' offense this season.