Season preview: GVSU men's basketball prepared to turn heads this season
Just 24 hours before their final exhibition matchup against the University of Michigan, the Grand Valley State men’s basketball team stepped on the court to begin an intense practice Thursday, Nov. 2.
Although the result of the contest would not count against their regular-season record, there was a certain atmosphere that carried throughout the team. It seemed as if there were a sense that their pride would be on the line against one of the most storied athletic programs in all of collegiate basketball history.
Head coach Ric Wesley began practice by yelling out a drill, and without hesitation, all 16 players would repeat the name of the drill while hustling to the baseline. The drill was focused on three-on-three fast-break defense and offense. One team of three ran back on defense while the offense followed in pursuit of making a quick basket.
“Hit somebody!” Wesley said to his players. “You have to be physical. Show some nasty out there!”
And with that lone statement, Wesley set the tone for his Lakers this season as they will begin regular-season competition at the GLIAC/GLVC Challenge against University of Missouri-St. Louis Friday, Nov. 10, and Quincy University Saturday, Nov. 11. Both games will be played at Ferris State in Big Rapids, Michigan.
While the Lakers dropped the contest by an 82-50 final score against the Wolverines Friday, Nov. 3, it became clear that the focus for this season’s team is at an all-time high. After being eliminated from the first round of the GLIAC Tournament last season, the Lakers enter this season with a chip on their shoulder.
One major point of emphasis has been establishing their three-point shooting. With solid perimeter threats like sophomore Ben Lubitz, junior Zach West, recent sophomore transfer Hunter Hale and sophomore Lance Dollison, the Lakers will look to play their talent to their strengths.
“We want to shoot the three,” Wesley said. “Our guys this year are better three-point shooters than our guys in the past. It also allows us to have a good balance of outside and inside offensive attacking.”
However, things will be difficult early for the Lakers as last season’s top three scorers—Luke Ryskamp (13.5 points per game), Trevin Alexander (11.1 ppg) and Juwan Starks (9.1 ppg)—all graduated. Luckily for the Lakers, they have a lot of returning talent and transfers to fill that void. The Lanthorn sports staff selected which players to watch for to have an impact early on this season.
Justin Greason, center
Standing at a towering 6 feet 10 inches, tied for the tallest height on the team, the junior has established himself as an offensive weapon when he gets the ball in the paint. But for an athletic team that pushes some of their offensive attack in fast-break situations, Greason is a near-perfect fit to help push the tempo with his agility and quick feet.
As a sophomore last season, he played in all of the Lakers’ 29 games, starting 15 of them. He averaged 8.1 points per game in 16.9 minutes per game, good enough for fifth best on the team. Greason was third for GVSU in rebounds—averaging 4.3 per game—while accumulating 21 blocks.
“He’s a lively guy,” Wesley said. “When he gets in motion, it’s just beautiful sight to watch him work. He’s just so light on his feet."
Chris Pearl, guard
If you’ve never heard of Pearl, it’s because this is his first season at GVSU after transferring from Siena Heights University. Standing 6 feet 5 inches tall, an above-average height for a guard, Pearl dominated at Siena Heights, leading the team in points per game (12.6) and minutes (34.4) while also grabbing six rebounds per game.
While Pearl enters GVSU with a hefty resume, getting heavy minutes early in the season isn’t guaranteed for the junior guard. But with his defensive abilities, crafty scoring and high-effort rebounding, it's hard for Wesley not to notice his skill set.
“He’s really done well with the minutes he’s been given,” Wesley said. “Because of that, he’s began elevating his status with us.”
Myles Miller, guard
In terms of effort and passion for the sport, there are few that rank above Miller. While he stands at 5 feet 8 inches, his stature shouldn't be viewed as a limitation.
“He’s a hard worker, maybe our best all-around athlete,” Wesley said.
As Miller now enters his senior season, the team has began looking to him as a leader, and he has stepped up to the challenge. Last season, Miller led the Lakers with 97 total assists in 24.7 minutes per game, being a playmaker in the team’s offensive flow.
“On and off the floor, he plays a huge role for this team,” Wesley said. “People look to him for stability, and he plays a lot of minutes.”
After going 1-1 in preseason play, including an 84-72 victory over Hope College Monday, Oct. 30, the team is finally beginning to see the fruit of their labor coming together has a team. While there hasn’t been a starting lineup officially announced, the team expects the rotation to be a source of change until later in the season.
But one thing Wesley takes pride in is the team's overall basketball IQ in practice and during competition.
"We're not at the John Stockton and Larry Bird level yet, but we want them to get to that level," Wesley said. "They're getting better and better. There is an athletic aspect to the sport, but its also a mental chess match."