Nov. 14 - BETHANY, W.Va. – Obviously there aren’t too many people who remember the first year of Bethany College men’s basketball in 1905-06.
However, with this being the 100th year of Bison basketball, head coach Aaron Huffman will have a roster that has many players who weren’t even part of the 99th year in 2006-07.
That’s because Huffman, the three-time PAC Coach of the Year, has 10 newcomers on his roster of 18 and for the second straight season, will be trying to replace the winningest senior class in Bethany history. After having to deal with losing Matt and Mike Drahos and Josh Polantz following the 2005-06 campaign, now he has to find a way to replace Chris Stephens and James Wallace, who helped BC record an 84-27 mark over the last four years and earn two NCAA and one ECAC Tournament bids.
“You really don’t replace players like Chris and James,” said Huffman, who at 95-42 for his career, is just five wins away from becoming only the third coach in Bethany history to win 100 games. “We look at it as replacing roles more than replacing players and we know what roles we need to fill. Anything I talked about last year about rebuilding, you multiply by five this year. We are going to have a fresh, new look and a completely different identity.”
With so many new faces, Huffman says his team is coming along, but is still figuring out what it will take to win in the college game.
“The team has been progressing,” said Huffman. “We are still trying to learn the continuance effort level it takes to win at the collegiate level. I could use all the clichés about coming to work every day but it really comes down to learning what it takes to win at this level.”
Two of Bethany’s returning lettermen are in the backcourt, where seniors Marcus Adams (Columbus, Ohio/Mount Vernon Academy) and Brody Jackson (Akron, Ohio/Manchester) are back. Adams started 27 games at the point guard and ranked second in the PAC in steals (2.52) and fourth in assists (4.07) while putting up 7.6 points per game.
Jackson started all 28 games and earned Second Team All-PAC after averaging 14.0 points and shooting 41.7 percent (83-199) from the arc and 90.5 percent (67-74) from the foul line.
“I really consider a veteran someone who has played at least two years with significant minutes,” said Huffman. “So Marcus and Brody are really the only two veterans we have back. Because they have so much experience, we are looking to them to provide leadership this year.”
The third starting guard spot will likely be either junior Tyler Morando (Wheeling, W.Va./Wheeling Central), who transferred from Marietta (Ohio) College where he was the Pioneers’ second-leading scorer last year (9.2), or freshman Dakota Matz (Zanesville, Ohio).
“Tyler and Dakota are the early favorites to earn the other starting spot,” said Huffman. “Tyler shoots well, is pretty scrappy and has college experience, having played at Marietta. Dakota comes from a winning high school program, plays solid defense, handles the ball well and we like his decision making.”
Three others are also vying for minutes, including junior Carey Palermo (Youngstown, Ohio/Ursuline), who played in 13 games last season, sophomore Jay Lyonett (Weirton, W.Va./Brooke), who appeared in 22 contests, and freshman Dustin Opalka (Cortland, Ohio/Lakeview). Huffman may also bring a couple guard-forward combos in for time, including sophomore Jonas Ankrom (Canonsburg, Pa./Canon-McMillan) and freshman Ryan McFadden (Columbus, Ohio/Mount Vernon Academy).
“Carey has worked hard in the program for two years and has a chance to prove he can handle minutes,” said Huffman. “Jay could also earn some time and Dustin might work his way into the rotation. Like Dakota, he’s a freshman, so it’s hard to say what you’re getting, but Dustin is a good shooter and moves well without the ball.”
“We may also use McFadden and possibly Ankrom at guard,” said Huffman. “They are ‘tweeners and we could use them, depending on what the situation dictates and if they are versatile enough to learn both spots.”
Providing depth for BC at guard is sophomore Austin Walters (Steubenville, Ohio/Indian Creek) and freshmen Teddy Alemu (Whitehall, Ohio/Whitehall-Yearling) and Nick Thomas (Uniontown, Pa./Laurel Highlands).
There may be a lot still to be decided in the backcourt, but Huffman says the post is a little more settled. Two sophomores are back in Ryan Besancon (Wooster, Ohio/Waynedale), who started every game last season and averaged 10.4 points and 5.8 rebounds, and Joe Testa (Amity, Pa./Trinity), who came off the bench in all 28 contests and put up 7.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.
Their roles may stay the same this season, as junior transfer Pete Petkovski (Wheeling, W.Va./Wheeling Park), a 6-7 forward who started 20 of 28 games at Division II Wheeling Jesuit a year ago and averaged 5.4 points and 3.4 rebounds, may get to start. McFadden is also expected to log a good amount of minutes up front.
“Our starters will probably be Ryan and Pete, with Joe and Ryan (McFadden) seeing a lot of time,” said Huffman. “Besancon seems to have gotten stronger from last year and runs the floor well. Pete has tools and is in the process of learning how to use them in our system.”
“Like Ryan, Joe has a lot of experience from last year and even though he’s a little undersized, he has a lot of versatility, with his ability to shoot, drive and post up a little,” said Huffman. “Ryan has a good deal of potential. He’s pretty skilled and seems to be a quick learner. Ryan’s also a little undersized but he makes up for that with how smooth he is on the floor.”
Additional depth down low will be supplied by Ankrom and freshman Mike Barlow (Wadsworth, Ohio), while the post players are rounded out by freshmen Ken Barrows (Wheeling, W.Va./Bishop Donahue) and Mike Hrivnak (Allenport, Pa./California).
“Jonas has improved significantly and put himself in position to compete for minutes,” said Huffman. “Mike Barlow is a smart, strong player who listens and does things the way they are supposed to be done.”
Although Bethany will play their toughest schedule since Huffman arrived, their goals have not changed. After finishing in the top two in the PAC during the regular season each of the last four seasons, the Bison want to be at the top of the league again, especially since there is an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament awaiting the champion. But Huffman also realizes that is a long way off and his team has to do a lot of work to get there.
“This is without question the toughest schedule we’ve played since I’ve been here,” said Huffman. “We have five games against scholarship programs this year, including two against Saint Vincent, two against Geneva and one against Wheeling Jesuit. Plus, we play Lake Erie, a team that was ranked number one in the region through all of last year. And the PAC is as balanced as it gets, so there will be no easy wins this year.
“Despite that, our goals are the same as they’ve always been and those are to win the PAC and earn an NCAA bid,” said Huffman. “This year with the automatic qualifier, those goals go hand-in-hand. But our focus also has to be improving throughout the year. We will not have our best product on the floor early on. No team does, but it will be more pronounced for us this year more than most. We are very young and very inexperienced, but we just need to keep working every day and focus on being the best team in February.”