Tim Swartzendruber is as anxious as anybody to see how his revamped McPherson College men’s basketball team performs Saturday night in its season opener against Haskell.
Game time is 7:30 p.m. in Lawrence, with a women’s game at 5:30.
Swartzendruber, who begins his seventh year at Mac with four of his seasons ending with trips to the NAIA National Tournament, has a roster full of newcomers that definitely have upgraded the overall talent level. The Bulldogs closed last year with a 15-16 record.
“The biggest challenge continues to be getting everyone on the same page for chemistry,” Swartzendruber said. “The group has been unselfish overall, but still needs to learn to play together. I like the group and believe we have some talent. We need to continue improving our team defense and be more consistent executing offensively to be a good team.”
T.J. Grant, who flourished during the second half of last season, figures to be the team’s motor as he’ll run things from his point guard spot, with returnee Kenny Berry joining him in the backcourt. An important returnee is Darius Hill, a Bulldog standout two years ago but out last year with a knee injury. Swartzendruber reports he’s looked good in the preseason as he appears to be back near 100 percent. DeAndre Henson, who saw spot duty last year off the bench, has moved into the lineup, with newcomer Ernest Maize completing the first five. Maize is a deluxe rebounder who goes after everything on the glass.
As always, Swartzendruber will dip into his bench early and often and believes the Bulldogs are deeper than they were last year.
“I hope we are ready for a game,” Swartzendruber said. “After scrimmaging twice last Friday and having the alumni game, I know the guys are anxious. I always think we need more practice. I was pleased with our scrimmages versus Brown Mackie and Colby. Aaron Bachura shot the ball extremely well in both games. Louis Parker III, our other freshman on varsity, gave us great minutes off the bench. Our post defense with Page Beeler and Ernest Maize was very good. Both Brown Mackie and Colby were extremely big inside.”
Haskell is always a mystery team because of a constant turnover in personnel. A noted addition this year is Randy July, who played clear back in 2009-10 for Sterling, but has been out of school for quite some time. July once scored 38 points for Sterling in a game against Mac in one of the most amazing shooting displays ever by a Bulldog opponent.
Tsalidi Sequoyah, a mammoth 6-10 center, is the top Haskell returnee. He’ll be joined by one-time Bulldog recruit Blake Pittman and Stand Lovato. Swartzendruber said the Indians have seven new players, so as usual the Bulldogs will have to adjust on the fly.
• LOTS OF NEW FACES FOR MAC WOMEN — Gordon Reimer begins his second year at the helm and this time around he'll be coaching some of his own recruits after being hired last year after recruiting season was already over.
The Bulldogs are coming off a 10-21 season and were 6-12 in the KCAC after they were a consensus choice to finish last in the preseason poll.
Reimer has only a handful of returners, but three of them will start Saturday — Bailey Brown, Whitney Jefferson and Sunny Smart. They will be joined by newcomers Megan Acklin and Georgia Smart.
Reimer has been pleased with what he's seen so far, but the Bulldogs face a Haskell team that pounded Bethany by 41 points on Friday.
"After seeing the film on Haskell and Bethany, Haskell looked in midseason form," Reimer said. "They have their top seven returning, and looked very composed and disciplined. I feel we need to start playing someone other than ourselves."
There will be no stars for the Bulldogs this year, as Reimer believes there will be different players on different nights who lead the team.
"We have great balance this year and should have multiple players with double-figure scoring and different players each game stepping up," Reimer said. "I have been pleased with both of the transfer players (Acklin and Georgia Smart). They have bought in much sooner than most transfers do. I also feel our 6-3 freshman (Alicia Demerat) will contribute to this team."