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Nov. 12 - BETHANY, W.Va. –With three of their top four scorers from a year ago graduated and seven newcomers to mix with seven returners, the Bethany College men’s basketball will bring a different look into their 2010-11 season opener Nov. 15 at home against Allegheny.

Even with all the new faces, second-year head coach Andrew Sachs, who guided the Bison a 19-9 record last year and a semifinal appearance in the ECAC Tournament for the program’s sixth consecutive postseason appearance, says the start to this season might not be much different than his initial year on the BC sideline.

“When you bring in seven new guys to mesh with seven returners, there will be a learning curve for everyone,” said Sachs. “It could be very similar to last year when we lost our first two games, but then everyone grew more comfortable with each other. We got better from the scrimmages to the first few games last year and that’s been the case again this year, so we’re anxious to get to the start of this season.

“However, the schedule does not give us a lot of leeway with Allegheny (14-11 last year), Baldwin-Wallace (14-12) and Wooster (25-6 last year, preseason #6 in poll) in the first week,” said Sachs.

The changes to the Bethany line-up begin at the point guard spot, where last year’s main contributors were senior Dustin Opalka (Cortland, Ohio/Lakeview), who averaged 8.3 points and hit 35 three-pointers, and sophomore James Barton (Bethel Park, Pa.), who averaged 7.4 points, are changing positions. A pair of incoming transfers will man the point guard for Sachs this season in sophomore Reece Mabery (Natrona Heights, Pa./Highlands) and senior Ray Gardner (Detroit, Mich./Livonia Clarenceville).

“By bringing in a couple point guards, we can move Dustin and James, although both can see time at point if we need them,” said Sachs. “Reece will start and is long and brings athleticism to the position, but he didn’t play last year, so he has a learning curve as well. So does Ray, who is in his first year with us and he is also somewhat limited by his size. But both are good on-the-ball defenders, which we didn’t have last year.”

Moving Opalka and Barton to the two means it will be one of the more experienced positions on the roster, as Opalka started 20 of the 27 games he played last year and Barton played in 20 contests after transferring from Division II Limestone. Behind them will be freshman Evan Webster (Southfield, Mich./Orchard Park St. Mary’s Prep) and junior Ryan Summers (Sistersville, W.Va./Tyler Consolidated).

“We moved Dustin and James to their more natural positions at the two-guard,” said Sachs. “Both will play, but we aren’t sure who will start right now. Of the freshman we have, Evan has picked things up the quickest and we will try to get him time because he is a good shooter and should develop into a good player. But right now, he is behind a senior and a sophomore who played a lot.”

At small forward, the Bison return sophomore Nick Wilcox (Venetia, Pa./Peters Township), who was Honorable Mention All-PAC last year after he was third on the Bison in scoring (11.0) and second in the PAC in steals (2.50) and fifth in rebounding (5.9). Sachs said one key this year is spell Wilcox more often this season after he averaged 35 minutes a game last year as a freshman. Possibilities to get some time are sophomore Rahlin Watson (Newark, Ohio) and freshman Noel Powell (Trenton, N.J./Trenton Catholic).

“Nick is probably our best returning player,” said Sachs. “We hope he shows continued improvement and maturity, but we want to try to keep from burning him out this year. So guys like Rahlin, who has worked really hard to improve, and Noel, who is very athletic but has a big learning curve to work through, could see time.”

The power forward slot has a pair of returners and one freshman with a lot of potential. Senior Ryan McFadden (Columbus, Ohio/Mount Vernon Academy), who averaged 6.7 points and 4.7 rebounds a game, is back with an improved aspect to his game. Sachs is likening sophomore Brady Pacific (Avonmore, Pa./Kiski), who played in 20 games last year, to the graduated Jonas Ankrom, who not only averaged 9.3 points and 3.3 rebounds last year but also shot at a 40 percent clip from the arc. The versatile freshman Leslie Addy (Columbia, Md./St. Vincent Pallotti) may see time at either forward spot this winter.

“Ryan is our senior captain who worked very hard to improve his jump shot over the summer,” said Sachs. “Brady is very similar to Jonas Ankrom in that he is a face-up four-man who can shoot. Leslie still has to develop some, but is very athletic and brings a second and third effort to the floor. And both Ryan and Leslie can play the three if we want to go big, so they give us versatility in that aspect.”

In the post, Bethany will lean on two junior transfers in 6-6 British Alexander (Dayton, Ohio/Trotwood Madison) and 6-6 J’Von Watts (Trotwood, Ohio/Trotwood Madison). They both played at Sinclair Community College last season and led them to a 22-10 record, while Alexander was a First Team All-OCCAC selection.

“We have two different types of players in the post, but they give us more size than we’ve had before,” said Sachs. “British is a very athletic five, but can also move to the four spot if we need him. J’Von is a more traditional post and has very good moves down low.”

While Sachs believes the make-up of his roster is a little deeper and more athletic than last year, replacing the 36 points and 18 rebounds contributed by Joe Testa, Jay Lyonett and Ankrom will not be easy and the roster will have to gel early in the face of a difficult non-conference schedule.

“I think we are a little deeper than we were last year, but we don’t have the skill guys we did,” said Sachs. “Although we aren’t where I want us to be yet, we are more athletic and I hope to get more offense from our defense than we did last year.

“We’ll find out a lot early because we don’t ease into things at all and are thrown into the fire,” said Sachs, whose team will also play in a Thanksgiving tournament at John Carroll, who is ranked 18th in the preseason. “But we want to play good teams to prepare for the conference and be in the best position possible to make the postseason.”

The PAC race figures to be competitive to the end again, as four teams received first place votes in preseason poll in which Thomas More was tabbed to finish in first place by a slim margin over Thiel. The Bison were third, ahead of defending champion Grove City with Washington & Jefferson, Saint Vincent, Westminster and Waynesburg rounding out the poll. Because the league has such a wide open feel to it, the non-conference slate awaiting the Bison is aimed at sharpening the program for the rigors of the PAC.

“I see the league being much better than last year,” said Sachs. “Everyone has improved with new recruits and the teams in the bottom half of the league didn’t lose many people. Grove City is the defending champion and always solid, Thomas More brings a lot back, Thiel has a done a very good job bringing in talent, W&J has a lot of seniors and in their first year of eligibility in the league, Saint Vincent brought in a very good recruiting class, so there are no easy games.

“But that’s what makes a great conference and that’s why we play a strong non-conference schedule,” said Sachs. “By playing programs like Wooster and John Carroll, we want to try to get recognition before starting PAC play and try to get two teams from the conference in the NCAA Tournament.”