Early Peek At Men's Hoops Yields High Expectations
Justin Lettenberger is one of 11 returning letterwinners for the Panthers in 2002-03

Justin Lettenberger is one of 11 returning letterwinners for the Panthers in 2002-03

July 22, 2002

MILWAUKEE - It's fair to say the UWM men's basketball program has been building toward this season for four years.

It started during the 1999-2000 season, when the Panthers won 15 games in finishing above .500 for the first time in eight years. UWM then won 15 more games in 2001-02, giving the program 30 wins in two seasons, their most back-to-back wins since the early 90's.

Then came last season. New head coach Bruce Pearl led UWM to 16 wins, including a school-record 11 in the Horizon League, en route to being named the league's coach of the year - a first for a UWM coach. The Panthers finished second in the league - their highest finish ever - and placed a player on the All-Horizon League First Team for just the second time in school history.

So as the 2002-2003 campaign grows closer, UWM faces the expectations built on the return of five starters and 12 letterwinners, the addition of four potential contributors who sat out last season and the prospect of playing every one of its league tournament games in Milwaukee.

Like it or not, the expectations for the Panthers to rise to the top of the Horizon League will not go away.

The unquestioned on-court leader of the Panthers is swingman Clay Tucker, who is bidding to become UWM's first-ever league player of the year in men's basketball. Tucker will likely leave UWM as its career leader in points, rebounds, steals and three-point shots. After consistently strong performances during his first two seasons, Tucker reached a new level last season by leading UWM in scoring 15 times and scoring in double figures in 27 of UWM' s 29 games last season.

Ronnie Jones emerged as the surprise of the 2001-02 campaign for the Panthers and earned second-team all-league honors. He burst onto the scene with a 33-point effort against Youngstown State and wound up second on the team in scoring.

But, Tucker and Jones will not be the only two standouts for the Panthers in 2002-03. Jason Frederick, who finished last season averaging 10.7 ppg,, also returns to boost what should be one of the best backcourts in the Midwest. The three combined for more than 41 ppg last season and hit a total of 205 three-point shots, led by Frederick's 71.

Depth is not an issue in the backcourt for the Panthers either. Jose Winston, a three-year starter at Colorado and a former Wisconsin Mr. Basketball, joins the Panther rotation after sitting out last season. Senior Dan Weisse, sophomore Chris Hill and redshirt freshman Mark Pancratz can also make strong contributions.

A host of returnees also dot the frontcourt for the Panthers. Sophomore Adrian Tigert, the only true freshman member of the Horizon League's All-Newcomer Team, will be joined up front by juniors Dylan Page and Nate Mielke and senior Justin Lettenberger. Tigert, who is recovering from off-season knee surgery, was the fourth-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder for UWM last season. Page, who pitched in with 6.1 ppg, emerged following Tigert's injury in the final game of the regular season. He scored 15 points against UWGB then bested that with a 17-point effort against UIC in the Horizon League Tournament. Mielke will use his 6-foot-11 frame to wreak havoc around the basket both offensively and defensively. Senior Kalombo Kadima will also contribute in both the front and backcourt.

The biggest boost to already potent attack will come in the form of returns to health by any of three players that were injured last season. Junior James Wright broke his leg against Wisconsin in December but averaged 7.4 ppg and 4.5 rpg in 11 games before his injury. 6-foot-8 Derek Huff, who sat out last season with a foot injury after transferring from Marshalltown Community College (Iowa), spurned Mississippi and Cincinnati to choose UWM. Meanwhile Rob Sanders, who sat out last season after transferring from Toledo, is recovering from a knee injury suffered in practice last season.

The schedule does the Panthers few favors, as UWM opens the regular season Nov. 23 at Big 10 champion Wisconsin. Also highlighting the non-conference slate is a contest Dec. 11 in Milwaukee against NCAA qualifier Valparaiso and a Dec. 28 date at Georgia. UWM will also play in highly-competitive tournaments in New Orleans over Thanksgiving and at Southwest Missouri State. The Panthers are also scheduled to be a part of the "Bracket Busters" concept developed by ESPN and will play a road game against another NCAA-caliber team Feb. 22 in a possible national television contest.



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