Nov. 12 – BETHANY, W. Va. – Returning nine players to a roster that found themselves in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference Championship Tournament semifinals a season ago, the Bison men’s basketball team will look to veteran leadership, as well as new head coach Nick Hager, to get back to their championship form in 2015.
Hager comes to Bethany for his first head coaching position after serving as an assistant coach with the Golden Eagles for the last five seasons. During that time, Juniata posted an overall record of 82-55 while earning back-to-back Eastern College Athletic Conference South Regional Championships in 2012-13 and 2013-14.
In his first season with the Green & White, Hager will take over a team that boasts 14 upperclassmen, including seniors Alan Harper (Cleveland, Ohio/Cleveland Central Catholic), Darrian Bruster (Cleveland, Ohio/Cleveland Central Catholic) and Yuki Yashiro (Chiba, Japan/South Kent).
Harper returns for his senior campaign as the Bison’s leading returning scorer. The 6-6 wing player appeared in 29 games for Bethany in 2014-15, making 19 starts, including 18 consecutive to end the season.
Harper averaged 9.2 points per game during his junior season, scoring in double figures in 14 different games. He ranked second on the team in three-point field goals made, hitting a career-high 43 on the season, while also averaging three rebounds per night.
Bruster appeared in 28 games for Bethany in 2014-15 while starting in 25 games at the center position. He averaged 7.7 points per night and will be the team’s leading rebounding, having averaged 5.2 boards per game last season.
Predicated on defensive intensity, the Bison backcourt fueled Bethany during the 2014-15 season. The Green & White ranked first in the conference in steals, averaging 10.1 per game.
The biggest hole that Bethany has been tasked with replacing is in the backcourt, as the Bison will look to replace former PAC Player of the Year Delonte’ Joyce. Last season, Joyce was the PAC scoring champion, averaging 19.1 points per game while also collecting 3.2 steals per night.
The Bison will also look to replace guard Jeff Joynes, who ranked second on the team in points per game in 2014-15. Last year, Joyce and Joynes combined to score 28.6 points per night.
According to coach Hager, that production will look to come from many different players, including junior Antonio Rudolph (New Castle, Pa./New Castle), who returns for his third season. In 2014-15, Rudolph took a bulk of starts along Joyce, appearing in 24 games while scoring 4.3 points per game.
An all-around presence, Rudolph ranked second on the team in steals per game (1.9) last season, while ranking first on the team in assists (3.0 per game). This year, he will look to step up and anchor the defensive effort.
Other returning letterwinners to the Bison backcourt this season include Yashiro and sophomores Calique Jones (Pittsburgh, Pa./Obama Academy) and Andrew Williams (Oil City, Pa./Oil City). Jones averaged 19.5 minutes per game over 26 appearances as a freshman. He averaged 5.7 points per game, which included five, double-digit performances.
Both Williams and Yashiro appeared exclusively in reserve roles last season, with Williams appearing in 25 contests and Yashiro, 22.
Others looking to make an impact in the backcourt this season include sophomores Jerron Athey (Richmond, Va./Banner Christian) and Zach Nahra (Mayfield Heights, Ohio/Mayfield) as well as freshman Nick Tantuo (Hermitage, Pa./Kennedy Catholic).
Along with the return of Bruster and Harper in the front court, the Bison also will receive a boost from returning letterwinners, sophomores Liam Davis (Orlando, Fla./Orlando Christian Prep), Javonte’ Trujillo (Aurora, Colo./Grandview) and Chris Harris (Brecksville, Ohio/Brecksville-Broadview Heights).
With another year of experience under their belts, the Bison are looking to the frontcourt to bolster a team that ranked eighth in the PAC in rebounding margin in 2014-15 (-4.6).
Davis appeared in 19 games for the Bison, shooting 44 percent from the field in a reserve role last season while averaging 2.4 points per game. Trujillo joined Bethany in the middle of the season, appearing in 12 games last year, while Harris earned valuable starts during both the PAC and ECAC Championship Tournaments last season.
Other players that will look to make an impact for the Bison frontcourt this season include junior transfers Brian Salisbury (Baltimore, Md./Milford Mill) and Travon Cotton (Saginaw, Mich./Heritage) as well as sophomore Nick Metz (Pittsburgh, Pa./OLSH).
The Bison, who were ranked fifth in the PAC Preseason Coaches’ Poll, will open their 2015-16 campaign by playing three of their first four games in the Hummel Field House. Bethany opens the season on Saturday, Nov. 14 against Penn State DuBois at 7 p.m.
You can watch Coach Hager's take on the upcoming season by checking out the video below, or by going to the Bethany Athletics YouTube page.