Scots add numbers and size to lineup
With more than 30 players in camp, Monmouth College men’s basketball coach Mark Vershaw has plenty to pick from for the upcoming season.
The Fighting Scots’ roster will be laden with upperclassmen, but not much on experience. Only six returning players from last year’s squad saw significant playing time. The addition of more than 20 newcomers could help the Scots reverse last season’s 5-18 record.
“It could be an interesting year,” said Vershaw. “We have a lot of upperclassmen in age, but they’re not a group that has experience playing together. We’re excited that we have the possibility to have a very good team. It’s all a matter of how quickly everyone can mesh.”
Senior Corey Gruber (Galesburg/Abingdon) and junior Curtis Oler (Fox Lake/Grant) have been charged with leading the “young” team. The co-captains headline the returning group, which features several three-point shooting guards.
“Corey had a very good season for us last year,” said Vershaw of one of only two seniors on the roster. “He’s very determined to find success. He does a lot of things well. Curtis exemplifies what we want our guys to do. He leads by example and works extremely hard.”
Gruber averaged nearly 10 points per game as a junior and led the team with 28 treys. Oler poured in 19 from beyond the arc.
The tandem won’t be alone in firing up long range shots. Sophomores Kendall Cox (Paxton/Paxton-Buckley-Loda) and Bryce Donaldson (East Peoria/East Peoria) return for the upcoming campaign. Cox hit 40 percent of his long range shots as a freshman and Donaldson connected on 20 threes. Add in extremely quick sophomore Michael De Decker (Carbondale/Murphysboro) and senior Austin Andrews (Galesburg/Galesburg), and the Scots have legitimate outside threats returning.
Inside, sophomore Jake Willis (East Peoria/East Peoria) will add height and size to the lineup when he joins the team following the completion of the football season. The 6-foot-6 post player appeared in 22 of the Scots’ 23 games last season.
“Those guys got a lot of experience last year,” reported Vershaw of his sophomore class. “They have more experience than a lot of college sophomores. They played well last year and we hope that pays off this year. We like the experience we have coming back in the perimeter and we feel that the guys we’ve brought in can step up right away and be game ready. We’ll have some bulk down low to complement our perimeter play.”
Like Willis, junior Cory Bishop (Bryant/Lewistown) – a linebacker on the gridiron – and freshman Mike Davis (Peoria/Richwoods) will join the team following the football season. Bishop, at 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, will add muscle in the small forward spot, and Davis is expected to transfer his quickness as a wide receiver to the forward position. Also in the mix at forward is 6-foot-4 junior David Altman (Homewood) and Alex Birge (Mount Zion/Mount Zion), a 6-foot-4 sophomore who could also see action as a guard.
Vershaw – who played at Division I Wisconsin as a 6-foot-9 forward – wanted to add a player he “could look up to,” literally. He did that this season with the addition of 6-foot-10 junior transfer Wes Dukeman (Arthur/Arthur). Dukeman adds height in the post, a commodity the Scots haven’t had in recent years.
“We hope our post corps will be solid,” said Vershaw. “Our posts should be as deep as ever since we’ve been here. Altman, Dukeman, Willis and Bishop are four good-sized kids. They give us some strength and size.”
The Scots didn’t just add newcomers in the paint, they also have plenty of new faces at guard to back up the veterans. Sophomore transfer Kyle Mengarelli (Arlington Hts./Hersey) and freshmen David Johnson (St. Charles/North) and Cameron Slate (Knoxville/Knoxville) are expected to be in the running for minutes at guard. That means Vershaw could put a lineup on the floor comprised of entirely fresh faces.
“Our challenge will be to get everyone playing together as a single unit,” said Vershaw. “The top teams in the league have a lot of guys coming back that have played together for a few years and have had success. We don’t have that luxury. We’ll need our guys to learn each other’s game and to come together quickly.”
The Scots won’t have much time to figure it out once the season begins on Nov. 15. They’ll have just three games under their belts before the Midwest Conference season begins Dec. 3.
“We shot well from the perimeter last year, but struggled from the free throw line,” said Vershaw. “There were some defensive lapses last season, too. That was almost a complete 180 from the year before. We want to score at a decent pace and play good defense, sort of combine the best aspects of the last two seasons.”
The Scots’ most veteran players who have experienced those two seasons – Gruber and Oler – knows what the coach is looking for and they’re ready to lead.
“We have very solid leadership with Gruber and Oler,” claimed Vershaw of his co-captains. “Overall, the sense of urgency and the need to come together quickly is much greater with this group than in past years. We’ve seen that in practice and it’s been a positive thing. The team is much more interested in getting to the point where we can be successful as a team. You have that from our leaders, our returners and the new guys. We went through some growing pains last year. There is a better sense of the need to get it done this season.”