PREVIEW: Return to NCAAs on Quakers' mind
November 13, 2012
Junior Klarke Ransom will see increase minutes this season.
The pain and disappointment of losing in the Ohio Athletic Conference finals still lingers around the Wilmington College men’s basketball program, and the eagerness to erase the bitter aftertaste has motivated them since they walked off the court on February 25th.
“Getting to the OAC Championship game last year and losing has really motivated this team,” said head coach K.C. Hunt. “I see a group of hungry guys with a chip on their shoulders. This group and particularly our seniors have only one thing in their sights; an OAC Championship and a return to the NCAA Tournament.”
In the front of the bus leading the charge are senior Brandon Candella (West Chester, OH/Lakota West) and junior Malcolm Heard II (Wilmington, OH/Wilmington). The inside/outside combination scored 26 percent of the Quakers’ points a season ago, and could be asked to carry a larger portion of the load.
Wilmington returns 13 players that started at least one game in 2011-12 and 74 percent of their point total. Seven of those players averaged double-figure minutes.
Opposing teams will face 40 minutes of full-court pressure from the K.C. Hunt-lead Quakers. The defensive intensity and pressure will help WC use their depth and athleticism to its advantage.
The Quakers will have to find a replacement for leading scorer, Antonio Bowman, who has graduated. But, the options are plentiful.
Sophomore Dwight Johnson (Dayton, OH/Jefferson) and junior Taylor Wellman (Norwood, OH/Norwood) will be locked in probably the tightest position battle of the camp. Johnson played in 28 games last season with eight starts, and averaged 3.7 points with 49 assists.
"Taylor and Dwight are two great options at the point,” said Hunt. “Both guys have great vision, the ability to lead a team, the ability to shoot the three and most importantly the ability to defend. I envision times when we play them together which should give us the ability to play fast, play smart and really stretch the defense for our posts."
Meanwhile, Wellman returns to the team after sitting out last year. He appeared in 25 games with 11 starts two seasons ago. The 6-3 guard averaged 7.3 points per game with 55 assists. His biggest attribute could be his ability to stretch the court allowing Heard much needed space in the paint. Wellman connected on 37 percent of his three-point shots during the 2010-11 season.
Candella was third on the team with 10.8 points per game and second with 5.1 rebounds. The 6-3 guard averaged a team-high 30.6 minutes per game. His leadership ability and basketball IQ will serve WC well.
Sophomore R.J. Leppert (Liberty Township, OH/Lakota East) could round out the starting backcourt for the Quakers. He started 19 of the team’s 28 games a season ago, averaging 7.3 points per game. Junior Klarke Ransom (Richwood, OH/North Union) averaged more than 20 minutes last season and is described as a “glue guy.” It wouldn’t be a shock to see him force himself into the starting lineup.
Heard, a first-team All-OAC selection last season, led the conference in shooting percentage – converting on nearly 61 percent of his shots. He finished seventh in the league with 14.7 points per game and was ninth in rebounding with 5.9 boards per contest. The 6-7 Heard was also third in the OAC with 42 blocks.
"Malcolm worked as hard this summer as any player I have had in the six years I have been the Head Coach at Wilmington College,” said Hunt. “Because of his hard work, I think we will see an expanded skill level and an improved overall game that is only going to make our team that much better."
Junior Ben Vonderhaar (Cincinnati, OH/Colerain) has the inside track on securing the fifth starting position for the Quakers after starting all but one game last year. He enters the season with a streak of grabbing a rebound in 22 straight games.
There are a plethora of options in the Wilmington College frontcourt as seniors Miles Bankston (Cincinnati, OH/Walnut Hills), Tim Pfeiffer (Clinton, OH/Akron Manchester), Ethan Fite (Hamersville, OH/Western Brown) and Taylor Kin (Upper Sandusky, OH/Riverdale), along with junior Christian Patterson (Norwood, OH/Norwood) will all battle for time in the rotation.
Wilmington won’t be taking it easy with its non-conference slate as Nationally-ranked Illinois Wesleyan (#8) and Washington (#21) are both taking part of Washington University’s Lopata Classic. The Quakers will play WashU in the first round and could meet Illinois Wesleyan in the championship. A road game at Presidents’ Athletic Conference runner-up Thomas More is also on the schedule as WC plays its first six games on the road.
"This is as challenging a schedule that Wilmington College has ever played,” said Hunt. “Our non-conference schedule features games against some of the best division III teams in the country. This schedule should prepare us very well for the always tough OAC."
The OAC is well, the OAC; every game will continue to be a grind. Defending champion Capital is the only conference team receiving votes in the Top 25, but anyone is dangerous. Six of the 10 teams finished at least .500 last year, and fifth place Wilmington was on the verge of earning the league’s automatic bid.