Midseason Grades: Laker men on the right track
GVL Archive / Robert Mathews
There is a student in the world of academics who is too often overlooked.
The type of student that shows up to class, puts in the work, puts in the time and ultimately gets rewarded with a decent grade. Not necessarily on the Dean’s List yet, but on the cusp. The effort is there, and the results will likely follow.
The Grand Valley State University men’s basketball team is like this student. The effort is there.
GVSU, a team with three first-year starters in its rotation, is just one upset victory away from sharing the best record atop the GLIAC standings. It has found ways to grind out victories and appears to be heading in the right direction.
Here is a look at how the team has done so far:
OVERALL GPA: 3.28 (B-plus)
RECORD: 11-3, 7-3 GLIAC
The best is yet to come for the Laker guards.
Fifth-year senior point guard Rob Woodson and junior guard Ryan Sabin have combined to make a formidable one-two punch through 14 games. They not only combine to lead the team in scoring with more than 25 points per game, but also in experience and leadership.
Woodson, the team’s vocal leader, has been efficient in the offensive end and is shooting 49.1 percent from the field. He also leads the team in assists and steals.
Sabin leads the team in minutes and points per game and has notched double-digit scoring outputs in 12 of 14 contests thus far. His desire to improve on a daily basis seems to set the tone for the Lakers.
“No games are easy from now on,” he said. “We all need to do a little bit more to make ourselves better, because we haven’t been playing the best.”
The perimeter play has been even better since freshman guard Luke Ryskamp was inserted into the starting lineup five games ago.
Ryskamp can score from the wing in a number of ways. He can shoot from beyond the arc, he is comfortable attacking the rim, and he can hit free throws. In fact, he leads the team in free-throw shooting percentage after connecting on 21-of-26 to start his career.
“Luke is a young guy, a freshman — a rising star — probably going to end up being a Grand Valley great,” junior forward Chaz Rollins said. “Rob, as far as creating and getting into the lane, may be the best guard in the GLIAC. Sabin? He’s like our number one guy. He creates, he hits shots — he does a lot for us.”
If the trio continues to improve at the 3-point and free-throw lines, it could go from formidable to dangerous in a hurry.
FRONT COURT: B
GVSU may be one of the more undersized teams in the conference, but it gets away with it thanks to the play of Rollins and sophomore forward Ricky Carbajal.
“We don’t quite have the size and power that we’ve had at times, so we’ll continue to try and work on our inside scoring,” head coach Ric Wesley said. “Chaz has helped us here as of late. There’s always areas we need to work on, but for the most part we’re pretty happy.”
Rollins (6’7”) and Carbajal (6’6”) have been solid defensively but may need to attack more on the other end of the court.
Carbajal is the x-factor.
He ranks third on the team with 10.2 points per game but will need to be more assertive in the latter half of the season. He averaged 18.3 points in the team’s first three contests but has not been taking as many shots since. He’s shown he can score, and the team will need him down the stretch.
Rollins, who ranks sixth in the conference with 6.9 rebounds per game, will also need to attack more offensively. He has been in the starting rotation for seven games and has shown the ability to take over a game.
He recently produced the team’s best individual performance of the season in a 75-66 loss at Walsh University on Jan. 9, when he blew up for 26 points and 18 rebounds. If he can bring that tenacity consistently, the team will be just fine down low.
“Our front line is pretty solid defensively,” he said. “We’re not where we need to be yet but we’re still working, we’re getting there.”
GVSU would not be where it is without the contributions of its bench, and it all starts with sophomore guard Darren Kapustka.
Kapustka hit three game-winning shots early in the season and may be the team’s best shooter from beyond the arc. He has hit 21-of-55 from long range.
The team will also need junior center Darren Washington, freshman forward Trevin Alexander and sophomore guard Ernijs Ansons to chip in on a night-in-and-night-out basis. Each of the four role players will need to contribute.
“Our bench is very important — and very solid,” Rollins said. “A lot of the guys on our bench could start at other programs.”
The Lakers play a slowed-down brand of basketball, which is why their points-per-game average of 71.2 ranks in the lowest quarter of the 16-team conference.
It’s an execution-based offense, and it’s been good when it’s had to be.
“That’s one of the biggest things Coach Wesley preaches is execution, execution, execution,” Rollins said. “If things go wrong, but we execute, everybody can play well, everybody can have an opportunity to score, and that will help us against good teams with strong defenses.”
However, it’s an offense that can disappear during games because a lot of shots come from the perimeter, and the team ranks 11th in the conference in 3-point-shooting percentage at 35.6 percent. It is also the third-worst team in the GLIAC at the free-throw line at 65.5 percent.
It’s the strength of the team.
The Lakers frustrate opponents with their ability to stick a hand in the face (sometimes on the face) of their opponents. They limit teams to shooting just 39.5 from the field — the lowest mark in the conference.
GVSU also surrenders just 65.0 points per game, the second-lowest average in the GLIAC.
“The best teams in the conference are going to be the best defensive teams,” Wesley said. “It’s very close and there’s a lot of balance. It comes down to four, five possessions a game where a team gets a little mini run and that’s often going to be the difference. If you look at the scores, the teams at the top are the ones that are probably the best defensively.”
Wesley deserves some credit.
“We don’t have the benefit of having the veteran leadership or experience that some of the teams have,” he said. “The teams that are the top have good senior players. We’ve got to find a way to get our first and second year guys to raise their level of play and expectations, determination and toughness.”
His ability to guide the Lakers to 11-3 should not be overlooked. Many of the players on the roster are either freshman or transfers, but that hasn’t mattered.
He is not the type of coach who looks too far ahead, and by focusing on improving on a day-to-day basis, he has built a team capable of making a late-season push in a conference that doesn’t appear to have a legitimate contender to this point.
“We need to maximize our possessions and be tough and hard-nosed defensively,” he said. “It sounds simple, but there’s really no aspect of the game that you can be weak at and have a chance to win these games because it’s so close between each team.”
The Lakers may not be a “Dean’s List” type of team yet, but they won’t be overlooked any time soon. They’re on the right track. A B-plus type of team with a lot of potential.