Those expecting the Vikings men’s basketball team to struggle this season after losing six seniors from last year’s 20-9 club can rest easy. It’s true, Seamus Boxley, the Viks’ senior stud that averaged 20 points and eight boards last year is gone, along with running mates Will Funn, Blake Walker and Antone Jarrell. Also gone is head coach Heath Schroyer, replaced by veteran coach Ken Bone. And yes, that leaves gaping holes and big shoes at almost every position to fill.
But ask any Vikings player and they’ll say the same thing: “We’re not worried.” As the Vikings retool a team that hosted the Big Sky tournament last year, only to lose in the first round to Weber State, they will be led by a bevy of talented big men. Anthony Washington, a 6-9 center who red-shirted last season after transferring from the University of Washington, will be a centerpiece to the new Viking attack.
“Twenty and ten, that’s my goal this year,” Washington said. “I want to get at least a double-double every night.”
That goal may be a lot more realistic than many think. Washington, “A-Dub” to his teammates, is listed at 245 pounds but looks 10 or 20 heavier. Last year Washington was the man nobody wanted to guard in practice, and now that he has a chance to play he’s hungry to avenge his team’s disappointing end to last season and establish himself as a force in the Big Sky.
“Expectations are high,” he said. “We didn’t get to the NCAA tourney last year and that’s our goal. I’ll do whatever the team needs me to.”
Washington will be joined on the frontline by Scott Morrison, the Viks’ 6-11 center from Vancouver, Canada. Morrison competed in the under-28-years-old World Championships, traveling to Turkey for the tournament and competing against some of the world’s best young players.
“I had a great coach there,” Morrison said of Team Canada coach Kevin Hansen. “I learned some great things from him.”
Morrison will have plenty of opportunity to put all he learned this summer to use, as he will be asked to hold down the front line with Washington. Morrison had an impressive freshman campaign in which he averaged 5.5 points and 4.6 rebounds in just under 20 minutes a game as a starter.
Joining the already-stacked front court is sophomore Marier Angui, a 6-11 center who played sparingly last season. Senior forward Tyler Hollist, a 6-7 wing with 3-point range, will compete for a starting spot along with junior college transfer Juma Kamara. Senior wing Keith Sconiers should expect to see playing time as well, now that he is out of former coach Heath Schroyer’s dog house.
The Vikings will again have solid depth at shooting guard. Jake Schroeder, recovered from the broken foot that sidelined him for six games last year, is poised to slide back into his role as starting two-guard, where he averaged 9.5 points and .411 shooting from three.
Schroeder will be asked to shoulder a much heavier offensive load this year as the Vikings plan on playing a bruising inside-out game. However, as a senior who started most of last year and has big game experience, Schroeder will also be required to provide much needed leadership to a team that got younger in a hurry this year.
“I feel like I need to be the one to work hard and show the example,” Schroeder said. “I need to provide the leadership.”
Schroeder will have to be a calming force in the back court as the Vikings replace national assist leader Will Funn with untested sophomore Ryan Sommer, a 5-11 transfer from Everett CC in Washington. Sommer is a proven scorer and averaged 25 points and 6 assists last year when he was the NWAACC North Region Most Valuable Player. Sommer will most likely start and share time with senior Josh Neeley, who saw time at both shooting and point guard last year. Silky shooter Paul Hafford comes of a redshirt year and should see time behind Schroeder at shooting guard.
This year’s team is not the fast breaking, highflying team of last season. But they’ll be mentally tough, well coached by the experienced Ken Bone and most importantly, team chemistry is already clicking.
“We’re going to be way different,” Schroeder said. For a team that fell just short last year after showing so much promise, maybe that’s not a bad thing at all.