WINONA LAKE, Ind. – Coming off last season’s charge to the NAIA national semifinals, Grace’s men’s basketball team faces a new set of challenges in 2013-14.
The Lancers will look to senior forward Greg Miller and sophomore point guard Logan Irwin to continue Grace’s trend of postseason success. Grace has made the NAIA National Championships in three consecutive years and five of the past six. To reach a fourth straight, however, the Lancers will need contributions from new players this winter.
“This is not a rebuilding year, but it is a reorganizing year as we lost four starters. This is a reorganization of who we are,” said Grace head coach Jim Kessler. “We are trying to get the lens focused on who this team is. When this team learns how to utilize each other’s strengths fully, then we’ll be a good team.”
Kessler, entering the 37th year of his legendary coaching career, recognizes how much talent graduated last season in senior starters Bruce Grimm Jr., Elliot Smith and Tannan Peters. But Kessler believes the pieces are in place on this year’s roster to pick up where the team left off a season ago.
Miller will be a steady force for the Lancers this season. The senior was named to the 2012 NAIA All-Tournament Team, averaged 16.8 points and 9.1 rebounds per game and shot 53 percent from the floor and 39 percent from beyond the arc. As Kessler put it, “You have to figure out how to defend Miller to stop our team. He can hurt you inside and outside and has great hands.”
Irwin is primed to fill Grimm’s shoes in running Grace’s offense. The transfer from NCAA Division I Stetson University graduated as Whitko High School’s all-time leading scorer with 2,230 points – good enough for 12th all-time in state history.
“Logan [Irwin] and Bruce [Grimm] are totally different people. They both have strengths but are far from a carbon copy,” Kessler said. “They both handle the ball and pass well and are both tough physically and mentally. I don’t fear any other team at the point guard position with what we have.”
The Lancers will look much different on offense this year, according to Kessler. The team will look to push offensively for a faster pace and has dropped many of the halfcourt sets it ran in the past. Grace’s conditioning will be a key factor in the team’s up-tempo offense. Kessler said the Lancers are already in the best shape of any squad he’s had in preseason.
In the post rotation, sophomore Kyle FIllman and senior Jared Treadway both made over 54 percent of their field goals last season. They will be joined by 7-foot-1 junior Adrian Makolli to give Miller support in the post.
Grace’s wing rotation is yet to be decided. Kessler has a trio of returning letterwinners in junior Niko Read and sophomores Caleb Featherston and Brandon Vanderhegghen as well as senior Morgan Michalski. Read, Featherston and Vanderhegghen connected on over 33 percent of their 3-pointers in 2012-13 and will be counted on to carry more of the scoring load this winter.
Also joining Grace’s guard rotation are freshmen Brock McFarland and Eric Miller. McFarland graduated from Jay County as the school’s all-time leading scorer while also leading his team in rebounding the past two seasons. Miller, a 6-foot-7 guard/forward from Carroll, has the versatility to help defend the post and extend opposing team’s defense with outside shooting.
“We’ll be a high energy team this year. Our guards each have strengths and are intense defenders,” Kessler said. “We have good on-the-ball defenders, and we’ll need them to get up and down the court to get transition baskets.”
The Lancers, as always under Kessler’s guidance, will be centered on spiritual growth as much as their on-the-court success. Although Grace has achieved much on the hardwood in recent times, the Lancers refuse to forget their mission.
“These are some quality young men. Their goals are to worship God by their play and be relentless in putting the team first,” Kessler said. “Winning is a byproduct of those things. I don’t know if we’ll fully figure out this team until midseason, but that’s part of the joy of it from a coaching perspective. We’ve got some good pieces. We’re just trying to figure out how to put it together.”
Grace kicks off its season at home on Saturday against Great Lakes Christian, climaxing the school’s Homecoming weekend. The Lancers will also host the Terry Polston Hoops for Hope Classic at the Manahan Orthopaedic Capital Center on Nov. 15-16.