The Western men's basketball team faces a tall task as it works toward a potential repeat as Great Northwest Athletic Conference champions.
This season, it faces that sizable challenge with an equally gargantuan roster. All of Western’s starting five are 6 feet 6 inches or taller.
The starters include 7-foot junior center Logan Schilder; 6-foot-9 senior forward Deandre Dickson; 6-foot-7 sophomore forward Daulton Hommes; 6-foot-7 sophomore forward Trevor Jasinsky; and 6-foot-6 junior guard Trey Drechsel.
Coach Tony Dominguez is a 23-year veteran of the program, but has never coached a team that could match this one’s height.
“This is probably the biggest team we’ve had in my [time] at Western,” Dominguez said. “We’ve had guys with size before, but as far as [having] probably seven or eight guys that can start, this is definitely unique.”
The size in the Vikings’ lineup has helped the team start the season off blocking 34 shots through five games, tied for ninth in the nation, despite being one of two teams in the top 10 that have played less than six games.
Jasinsky said he thinks the starting lineup’s size helps the team match up well with almost all opposing offenses.
“I think where we can really make our mark is on defense,” Jasinsky said, “just because of our length and our ability to switch anything and pretty much guard anybody.”
The unit’s defense is anchored by Schilder, a 7-foot rim-protector who’s averaging 1.8 blocks a game.
Coach Dominguez called Schilder’s play “phenomenal.”
“He’s been probably our best player overall, consistently,” Dominguez said.
Schilder is the team’s third-leading scorer with 11.2 points per game, averaging just under a double-double for a Vikings team that has been nursing several key players back to health.
Leading scorer Hommes, along with Drechsel and Jasinsky were among the Vikings who missed time with injuries early this year; the latter two sat out the Vikings’ first exhibition game against Quest University.
Dominguez said the 6-foot-7 forward Hommes, who’s grown eight inches since high school and was first recruited as a point guard, will be used in a ball handling role as his injured knee regains strength.
Hommes, who’s averaging 18.2 points per game, said it feels good to finally have all five starters on the floor together.
“It’s kind of a weird season how we started,” Hommes said. “We’ve had a lot of dings early in the season, but we’re all getting healthy.”
Before the season began, starting point guard Drechsel, who leads the team in assists and steals, feared he would be out for the season for the second straight year.
Drechsel said the first doctor he saw after a preseason knee injury told him the knee would require season-ending surgery. The next day, a knee specialist told Drechsel he could heal the knee by taking pressure off of it and could be back on the floor in a matter of weeks.
“It feels like I’m playing with house money a little bit,” Drechsel said. “Having to deal with that disappointment one day and then being told the next day, ‘you can play in two to three weeks,’ makes me thankful to even be able to play.”
Dominguez said the team had only been able to practice once as a complete unit through three games and games have been the only opportunity to play together consistently.
Dickson, who leads the team in rebounding with 36 boards and is the second-leading scorer with 17.4 points per game, said the team has plenty of room to grow.
“We know it’ll get better,” Dickson said. “As guys get healthy, we’ll get to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses to further develop that chemistry with each other.”
Jasinsky said the lineup has been consistently improving as they play together more.
“The sky's the limit for us, honestly,” Jasinsky said. “We feel we’re improving as a unit every day, just on little things.”
Most of the starters enjoy playing defense and their chemistry allows them to easily lock-in on the defensive end, Schilder said.
The starting lineup’s relationship is a huge factor in their play, Jasinsky said.
“Four of us live together and Deandre’s over at our house as much as he’s at his house,” he said.
Dickson agreed chemistry was important to the team.
“The coaches did a really good job recruiting quality guys, and it shows in the chemistry we have with each other,” Dickson said. “We’re all hanging out with each other. Outside of basketball, we’re all best friends.”