The 2015-16 Western men’s basketball team is set and ready to make another run to the national championships through its senior leadership and mixed new talent.
Last year, the Vikings started the 2014-15 season with a 13-10 record while looking from the outside into a potential playoff run. They then rallied together to win eight games in the row to end the regular season and won the first two games of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference to reach the conference championship. During that streak it won its games by an average of 19 points per game, head coach Tony Dominguez said.
More challenges are ahead this year, however, the most notable being the renovation of Sam Carver Gymnasium, Dominguez said.
“There are a lot of obstacles,” Dominguez said. “We’ll be playing off-site and basically not be able to practice there either. Because of that, we are also playing most of our schedule on the road. So there’s going to be a lot of challenges but we have the team to overcome that with senior leadership and talent.”
Ricardo Maxwell, a senior guard, started 23 of the 25 games he played in last season, missing eight games of the season with a knee injury. Regardless, he still was a second team GNAC All-Star, averaging 15 points and 3.9 assists per game on 51.8 percent shooting, with a 31 point outing versus number one seed Western Oregon in the GNAC semifinals.
“I had a chip on my shoulder when we played them because I felt like our team should have been up there in the top,” Maxwell said. “That game I just zoned out and had one of those nights.”
After being a team captain last season, he is taking it upon himself to lead by example, Maxwell said.
Mac Johnson, a center and another senior, played in every game for the Vikings last season and ranked fourth in the conference in field goal percentage, fifth in rebounds and tied for sixth in blocks. After overcoming a collapsed lung at Gonzaga Prep High School, the junior-college transfer thinks that team chemistry will be important in next year’s run.
“Last year I think we had trouble looking at the big picture as a whole and I think all of our guys are pretty bought in now,” Johnson said. “I see us doing really well [this season]. I think the big thing for us is starting the season on a high note and keeping it there rather than battling from behind.”
Junior Jeffrey Parker, forward, enters this season with 819 career points on 43.3 percent three-point shooting accuracy. After leading last year’s squad in points per game with 15.6, Parker said the team has high expectations for next season.
“We finished strong last season and we’re looking to really improve,” Parker said. “We just have a lot of guys that can come in, play hard and give us a lot of beneficial elements to the game.”
Some of those guys include senior guard Kyle Impero, senior forward Colby Mitchell, senior center Blake Bowen, sophomore guard Brett Kingma and freshman guard Trey Dreschel.
Impero played in all 31 games as a junior last season, averaging 7.6 points per game.
“He really came on and did a phenomenal job at the end of the season last year,” Dominguez said.
Mitchell redshirted last season, but played in all 28 games as a junior in the 2013-14 season for the Vikings.
“He sat out but he started the year before and we finished 29th in the country,” Dominguez said.
Bowen played in 24 games last season, averaging 2.7 points and 2.0 rebounds a game.
“Bowen is a 6-foot-9 player that could start and he’ll be a senior that was a really good sub off the bench,” Dominguez said.
Kingma missed all of last season with a knee injury but is a Division I transfer from Washington State University. Kingma previously played for the Oregon Ducks as a freshman in 2011-12, while averaging 3.1 points a game.
Dreschel also redshirted last season but was the 2014 Viking Slam Dunk champion as a freshman. Dreschel last played for Cedar Park Christian High School in Bothell, Washington, where he was the Nisqually League Player of the Year.
“Dreschel is a redshirt freshman with an outstanding 6-foot-5 [frame],” Dominguez said. “[He’s a] very athletic player who can play all positions.”
All and all, this year looks to be a fun, but very challenging year, Dominguez said. But the team seems ready and able to deal with the adversity.
“It will definitely be challenging, but basketball is basketball,” Dominguez said. “I think our guys are mentally tough and prepared.”
Even as the team works around the renovation of their home court, the players believe that they have what it takes to accomplish their goals.
“It should be a great season,” Maxwell said. “I feel like we have a great chance and honestly, I feel like we’re going to win the whole thing.”