BETHANY AIMING FOR SAME RESULTS WITH NEW COACH, NEW LOOK
Nov. 12 - BETHANY, W.Va. – Even though they have their third head coach in as many seasons and six of the top eight players from last year are gone, the Bethany men’s basketball team is still hoping to keep up their recent string of success in 2009-10, which includes five consecutive trips to the postseason.
The new season tips off for the Bison Nov. 16 at LaRoche, with PAC action slated to open up Dec. 2 at Westminster.
Head coach Andrew Sachs takes over on the Bethany sideline after spending the last five years as an assistant at Holy Cross. The team he takes over, which went 17-12 last year, finished as the PAC runner-up and earned an ECAC Tournament berth, has just two starters back in senior forward Joe Testa (Amity, Pa./Trinity), an Honorable Mention All-PAC choice last year, and junior forward Ryan McFadden (Columbus, Ohio/Mount Vernon Academy). Although there are many new faces trying to get adjusted to one another, Sachs says his team is doing its part to get ready for the new season.
“Preseason has gone very well and we’re trying to get better every day,” said Sachs, who helped Holy Cross to four Patriot League Championship games and the 2007 title. “There is a large learning curve for the kids working with their third head coach in three years and outside of Testa and McFadden, most of our guys haven’t played heavy minutes before. But the preseason has given me a lot of time to evaluate everyone and try to get some semblance of a line-up and rotation, which should be settled by mid-January.”
The Bison’s strength appears to be in the front court. Testa was the team’s second-leading scorer at 12.3 points per game last year and first in rebounding with 7.9 boards per contest. McFadden worked his way into the starting line-up by the end of the season and put up 4.3 points and 3.3 rebounds a game. Joining them is senior Jonas Ankrom (Canonsburg, Pa./Canon-McMillan), who averaged 7.6 points and 3.1 rebounds as a key bench player for the 07-08 PAC Championship team. He was poised for a breakout last year, but an injury forced him to sit out all season.
Another returning player is sophomore Jimmy Reeves (Macedonia, Ohio/Nordonia), who averaged 3.4 points, 2.7 rebounds and blocked 23 shots as a freshman. Newcomers in the front court include sophomore transfer Reggie Baptiste (Brooklyn, N.Y./Pacific) and freshman Brady Pacific, giving Sachs plenty of options in the paint.
“Guys who rebound and do the little things well will play and we’ll start with two of our captains Testa and McFadden,” said Sachs. “Ankrom is coming back off an injury and could also start, but will certainly help with depth. Reeves and Baptiste will get some minutes and Pacific could contribute once he gets used to the system and learns to play at the college level.”
On the wings, the Bison will turn to a senior and freshman to start early on, with bench help coming from two inexperienced players. Senior Jay Lyonett (Weirton, W.Va./Brooke) averaged 2.6 points in 27 games last year off the bench but elevates into a starting position this year, while freshman Nick Wilcox (Venetia, Pa./Peters Twp.) will start at the three spot. Junior Dustin Opalka (Cortland, Ohio/Lakeview), who will also see time at the point, and freshman Damien Green (Newport News, Va./Denbigh) will be the top reserves, with sophomore Ryan Summers (Sistersville, W.Va./Tyler Consolidated) and freshmen Jason Marshell (New Baltimore, Mich./Anchor Bay) and Rahlin Watson (Newark, Ohio) also in the mix for minutes.
“Lyonett is a senior who has worked really hard and will be the starter at the two-guard to start the season,” said Sachs. “If he works on a jump shot, Wilcox is going to be a really good player in the league. He’s a quick learner and is good at getting into passing lanes. Green is a freshman who can be a solid player and challenge those two. Opalka is versatile who will play a little on the wing, as well as the point.”
The biggest question mark Sachs has to get answered quickly is at the point guard spot. It’s shaping up as a three-man race between Opalka, who played limited minutes as a freshman and missed all of last year because of injury, junior Nick Thomas (Uniontown, Pa./Laurel Highlands), who has seen only spot time during his first two years, and freshman Deonte Harrell (Salisbury, Md./Parkside). The new Bison coach is hoping one of the three raises their game to claim the position because he says point guard play will be the key to Bethany’s fortune this year.
“Nothing is set at the point and it’s a battle between three guys in Opalka, Thomas and Harrell,” said Sachs. “We have two guys who have hardly played in their previous years and a freshman, so somebody has to step up and become a leader. I think the success of the season will depend on one of those three stepping up.”
In addition to the point guard situation, Sachs is also concerned about his team’s shooting on the perimeter, which took a hit with some of the losses from last year.
“Replacing six the top eight players from the year before is never easy,” said Sachs. “Our front court is deep and versatile, but the perimeter shooting and overall backcourt play is a bit of a concern. Lyonett and Opalka can shoot a little, but a lot of the better shooters from last year are gone. I believe you win with guards because they handle the ball, hit shots, get into scoring areas and also stop penetration on defense.”
Even with the inexperience issues facing his team, Sachs says the work ethic and the program’s desire to continue their success, which includes a PAC-record 12 league titles, is a motivating factor as they stay focused on improving throughout the campaign.
“Our guys embrace and care about the winning tradition that has been established here,” said Sachs. “We need to stay healthy and continue to get better because our goal is to be playing our best basketball in February heading into the PAC Tournament.”