Panthers Look For Winning Combination In 2007-08
Oct. 31, 2007
MILWAUKEE - The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee men's basketball team thinks it has a winning combination for the 2007-08 season.
Eighty percent of the team's scoring from a season ago is back in the fold, led by the return of four starters. Then, throw in a solid group of returnees that came off the bench last season. Finally, mix in a highly-regarded group of true freshmen and transfers that will all be looking to make their mark, and the Panthers figure they have the talent on board to compete for the Horizon League title. Now, according to head coach Rob Jeter, it is a matter of bringing it all together.
"I think we are probably the most unknown of all the teams," Jeter said. "People have heard a lot about the different players we have, and people have seen all of our freshmen, but now they are waiting to see the jump they can make. When you take the returning guys that got experience last year and you add the new guys - freshmen and transfers - it is a good mix. Now we need to figure out a way to play together. Again, the one thing we don't have is that experience of playing together. There is a lot of value to that in team sports, and especially in our league. So, the quicker we can get that experience, who knows how tough we can be."
The group of returnees is led by a quartet of seniors who appear intent on making their final season in Milwaukee a memorable one. Avery Smith (15.5 ppg) earned Preseason All-Horizon League First Team honors while Paige Paulsen (11.3 ppg) was a preseason second-team honoree after collecting all-newcomer honors a season ago. Allan Hanson started 30 of 31 games a season ago, averaging a team-high 33 minutes per game while finishing fourth on the team in scoring (7.7 ppg). And, Marcus Skinner played in all 31 games, starting seven times.
A junior and three sophomores then round out the list of returnees, with each having played Division I basketball for the first time last season.
Junior Ricky Franklin begins his second year in Milwaukee with a great chance to make a major jump forward. He started 23 games and averaged 7.2 points per game a season ago. But, he averaged 9.6 ppg over the last 16 games of the season, when he reached double figures eight times.
Sophomores Roman Gentry, Charlie Swiggett and Kaylan Anderson will also be looking to make a big jump this season. Gentry started to show signs late last season of just how big that jump might be. He averaged 11 points per game over the final three games of the season, including a 17-point, nine-rebound outing at UIC. Swiggett was in the starting lineup for 12 of the first 17 games of the season before a knee injury ended his year. But, the sophomore has recovered and will be back in the mix for playing time again this season. Anderson, who has a redshirt season under his belt in addition to playing in 25 games a season ago, will also be fighting for time in the rotation.
The experience gained by this group during an often trying 2006-07 campaign should pay off. It already has, according to Jeter, in the form of greatly-improved preseason preparation born from a better understanding of the rigors of Division I basketball.
"You can definitely see the jump and you can see the maturity with their bodies. And mentally you can see them maturing," Jeter said of the returnees. "During preseason conditioning, as freshmen, when they would hit those walls where they were physically and mentally worn down, you could see them give in. This year I haven't seen any of that with those guys. I think that's what you see when you have guys returning. You don't really see their breaking point - they fight through it. And they understand what it is going to take."
Jeter says having those veterans around is greatly helping the teaching process as practice gets underway.
"For me as a coach, it is night and day working with this group compared to last year at this time," Jeter said. "I am not saying we are that much better, it is just that the explanations are easier and I don't need to give pep talks about being prepared for what is coming. They know what is coming, they are prepared and now it is just a matter of making sure we are in the best shape we can be in."
While the Panthers will certainly lean on their group of returnees, it is contributions from their highly-regarded group of newcomers that could help the Panthers take a major step forward. Oklahoma State transfer Torre Johnson will take the floor for the Panthers after averaging better than 10 ppg in his one season in Stillwater and Tulsa transfer Deion James returns to action after playing in 55 games over two seasons with the Golden Hurricane. St. Mary's (Texas) transfer Joe Allen had also hoped to be a part of this group, but he will be sidelined for the season with a quad tendon tear.
UWM will also have five true freshman on the roster in 2007-08, part of a recruiting class recognized by many as the best in the Horizon League. Chicago Simeon standouts Tim Flowers and Kevin Johnson are part of the mix, with each having played on the last two Illinois Class AA championship teams. Flowers has been rated among the top 75 players in the country while Johnson had a breakout senior season to earn all-state and all-state tournament honors. Notre Dame Prep's Deonte Roberts returns to the Midwest after playing his high school basketball in St. Paul, Minn. Roberts was an all-state performer in Minnesota and then an All-New England honoree. Meanwhile, Anthony Hill (Milwaukee Bradley Tech) and Brad Carroll (Tempe Corona del Sol) join the roster after all-state high school careers.
All of those pieces, plus walk-on returnee Jason Averkamp, give Jeter plenty of choices when it comes to starting lineups and playing rotations.
"I think what this group has to understand is that it doesn't matter if you are starting a game, ending a game or are anywhere in between, every person is important. They all have important roles," Jeter said. "It could be matchups that change our lineup. If it's style of play, we could change lineups. We have guys that are willing to pick each other up."
The apparent depth on the Panther roster has Jeter eyeing the idea of effectively pushing the tempo, pressing in a variety of manners and wearing out the opponent.
"Our tempo and our pressure is something we're going to have to look to continue to build on," Jeter said. "Conditioning is going to be huge because we are going to be able to throw a lot of bodies out there that are all capable of helping the team. You might as well find them a place on the court where they can help the team. I think we have to play a little faster and play more aggressively and live with some mistakes."
In the end, though, the Panthers' transition back into title contenders in the Horizon League will start with their seniors. Jeter is pleased with what he has seen so far, especially in the willingness of his older group to lead.
"I am seeing a group of seniors who have dedicated themselves in the off-season to becoming more fit and becoming stronger. I am seeing a group of guys that are coming through in the area of leadership, which is something we talked so much about last year," Jeter said. "They are more comfortable with me, they are more comfortable with what we are doing and they really understand what it takes. We were looking at a group last year that could play but had not been through the battles and didn't understand the importance of the weight room and didn't understand the need for attention to detail. I don't have to tell them any more - they know. This group is in much better shape, they are stronger and their leadership abilities have improved tremendously."
Jeter has found that leadership has turned into an enthusiasm which has spread through the entire 18-man roster.
"I can just sense the excitement with this group. I think they all like each other and they are all enjoying themselves," Jeter said. "This preseason conditioning has been the most enjoyable for a group that I have been around in a long time. Does it hurt? Is there pain involved in preseason? Yes, but they have managed to smile and joke with each other and have fun with each other, and that's a good sign."
The next step is to take the work in the preseason, along with the enthusiasm, and turn it into victories on the court. The tests for the Panthers will come early and often on the 2007-08 schedule, with UWM set to face Northern Iowa, Drake, Marquette and Wisconsin in the first six weeks of the season.
The visit by the Badgers to the U.S. Cellular Arena will be the first contest between the two teams at The Cell and the first home game in the series for the Panthers since the 2001-02 season. Meanwhile, the matchup with Marquette at the Bradley Center will be the first between the two schools since 1998.
The early schedule should serve the Panthers well when it comes to preparing for league play, where they have been picked to finish fourth in the official preseason poll, which includes votes from head coaches, sports information directors and media that covers the league. The poll saw the Panthers tally 325 points, just behind Wright State (354) and Green Bay (333). Butler was the clear preseason favorite, collecting 456 points and 42 of 46 first-place votes.
"It puts us in a pretty good spot," Jeter said. "We are capable of exceeding expectations. We have a group that I think understands the task at hand. You take a look at the history of our league, and it is usually groups that have experience and groups that have come together over three or four years that have more success. Green Bay is one of those teams that has a group together for their third season, and some of them four seasons. Plus, Wright State and Butler are coming off a great seasons and have a lot of returning players. So I can see where some of those teams might be a little bit ahead of us. It seems about right."
Now, the work begins on the long journey from October to March, as Jeter and his staff look to blend some extremely talented pieces of the puzzle into a cohesive unit.All of those pieces have Jeter excited to get the season started.
"It's going to be an exciting year," Jeter said. "Last year we had some holes to fill but this year, I don't think we have holes to fill, we just have more experience to gain. We have a lot of returning players, we have some good pieces that are filling some of those gaps we had last year, and together that presents a lot of bodies which can add a lot of excitement. We can play a lot of different combinations and play a lot of different ways. We should be able to get up and down and play a style of basketball people are going to enjoy."