Season in review: GVSU men’s basketball lays groundwork for bright future
Whether you religiously follow Grand Valley State athletics or not, even the most casual follower realizes the university's dominance in Division II.
From women’s soccer not making a fifth straight National Championship appearance seem like a "disappointment," track and field quietly taking home multiple trophies a year or football becoming a factory of future NFL prospects, these programs are the gold standard of excellence in all Division II athletics.
Before these programs found their consistent stream of success, each had their own set of growing pains. Whether it was finding the right talent, implementing a winning culture or having the right personnel, their success did not happen overnight. It took a process of patience and hard work to reach that level.
Then there’s the Grand Valley State men’s basketball team, whose season came to an abrupt end in the quarterfinals of the GLIAC Tournament after falling 73-65 to Lake Superior State on Wednesday, Feb. 28. With the Lakers ending the season with a 14-15 overall record (9-12 GLIAC), any non-follower could say this season didn't match that level of excellence expected here at GVSU.
But for those who followed their journey, it’s hard to be disappointed with this year’s final product. After their top three offensive weapons from the season prior graduated, head coach Ric Wesley was faced with the task of implementing new recruits and transfers—while enhancing the roles of returning players—to fill those voids.
Those newcomers who expected heavy minutes early on included Central Michigan transfer Hunter Hale, junior transfer Chris Pearl and incoming freshman Jake Van Tubbergen. Unfortunately, Van Tubbergen was unavailable to play the first four games due to a leg injury.
After covering this team for this entire season, it was hard for me to be upset with their overall outcome. GVSU has the coaching staff needed to succeed, players who have bought into their system and the competitive nature to make every single game a close one.
But what this team lacked in a sneaky-good Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) was a true star to carry this team. Not only that, but they had to play GLIAC heavyweight programs like Ferris State, Lake Superior, Northern Michigan and Michigan Tech twice each.
These teams have that star power. Ferris State has GLIAC Player of the Year in center Zach Hankins (15 points per game, 9.5 rebounds per game); Lake Superior has point guard Akaemji William (18.8 ppg, 7.0 assists per game); and Michigan Tech has the GLIAC’s top scorer in Kyle Monroe (27.7 ppg).
However, what this season proved is that GVSU has two potential stars who can carry this program to the next level. Those players?
Jake Van Tubbergen and Hunter Hale.
These two future stars for this program—who each earned All-GLIAC Second Team honors—showed glimpses of their true potential over the course of their first season with GVSU. Hale led the Lakers in scoring per game (12.9), total 3-pointers made (67) and free-throw percentage (.871).
Besides his Second Team honor, Van Tubbergen was also awarded GLIAC Freshman of the Year—and for good reason. After recovering from his leg injury, the Lakers finally had someone to get them a basket—inside or outside—on command. Standing at 6 feet 6 inches tall, his ability to play the power forward and center position allowed the Lakers to become more versatile with bigger and small lineups defensively.
By the end of the season, Van Tubbergen finished second in scoring for GVSU (11.4 ppg), second in field-goal percentage (.561) and first in rebounds per game (6.6).
If these two develop into these stardom roles, the possibilities are endless for a team that will still be incredibly deep next year. Although this team will miss seniors Myles Miller, Drake Baar and Chris Dorsey on--and off--the court, they have players like freshman guard Brett Lauf, junior center Justin Greason and transfer guard Demetrius Lake to step into the guard and center positions.
Besides that, players like forward Zach West, forward/guard Ben Lubitz and forward Chris Pearl will all become the undoubtable leaders of this team next season. What they all bring to the table is the ability to dominate defensively at multiple positions. Pearl came into the year as a guard, but wound up locking up opposing centers in crucial moments.
So while it's hard to accept the end of this season, it’s not hard to say that the future now looks brighter than ever for this GVSU men’s basketball program.
If these players and team evolve to the next level, don't be surprised to see this team enter the upper echelon of Laker programs. Trust the process.