- With a solid corps of returning players combined with an outstanding recruiting class, William and Mary head coach Tony Shaver expects the 2005-06 Tribe men's basketball team to be the best he has had in his three years at the College. W&M will bring back its top four scorers, its five best rebounders and at least three of its top four players in assists, blocks and steals from last season's team. The 10 returning players will be joined by a group of five newcomers that includes the state of Virginia's player of the year, a transfer from the Southeastern Conference, a member of the top-ranked prep team in the nation, a three-time state champion and a Virginia All-Star game participant.
This year's team will be especially deep at the forward and center positions, where the Tribe returns all three starters from last season, to go with three more newcomers.
"Our guards will be young, but they are very skilled and determined and will provide quality play," said Shaver. "But at the three, four and five spots, it's certainly the most depth that we've had since I've been here. We'll have some versatility and quality depth at those positions. There will be some of the best competition in practice since I've been here. From the starters last year, right down to the freshmen, they are all going to have to earn their time."
The most important position on the floor to run Shaver's preferred up-tempo style of play, this season's group of guards arguably has the most potential and athletic ability of any team at W&M in many years. The challenge early in the season for the coaching staff will be finding the right combination of individuals to play the position.
The top returning player at the position is sophomore Nathan Mann, who started 18 of the 29 games last season, leading the Tribe and finishing 12th in the Colonial Athletic Association with an average of 2.62 assists per game as a rookie. More of a natural shooting guard, he will likely see some time at the point guard position again this season. Mann dramatically improved his strength and conditioning over the summer, exceeding every one of the weight room goals set for him by the coaching staff. Now that he has a year of collegiate experience under his belt, Shaver expects that Mann could be one of the most improved players on the team this season.
"Nathan has a feathery touch shooting the basketball and returned this fall in tremendous shape," said Shaver. "He has improved on the biggest thing that we asked him to work on over the summer, which was his ball-handling ability. He had a difficult time last season dealing with the quickness of the game at this level, but I think that he is better prepared to handle that this season."
New to the team, but certainly not to college basketball is junior Adam Payton, who sat out last season after transferring to W&M from Vanderbilt. Payton played in 52 games for the Commodores, including 29 as a sophomore in 2003-04, when he converted over 50 percent of his field goal attempts. A quick, athletic player who is an outstanding defender, the rest of his teammates elected him as one of the Tribe's captains this season, despite the fact that he has yet to play a minute in a W&M uniform.
"Adam is going to be a great addition to our program. It was difficult last year to watch him be one of our best players in practice and then have to leave him home on game day," said Shaver. "He adds a level of athleticism that we didn't have a year ago. He'll be a defensive stopper for us this year and should change the way that we can play defensively. Adam is such a good athlete and so versatile that we can play him at a number of different spots on the floor, he just needs to become more consistent offensively. He brings a passion for the game and has the energy that I think is necessary to being successful."
Freshman Calvin Baker, a native of Newport News, rounds out the top three guards on the team and will likely immediately press for time as the starting point guard. The 2005 Virginia Group AAA Player of the Year and a two-time Daily Press player of the year at Woodside High School, Baker was also named the most valuable player of the 2005 Virginia East-West All-Star Game, leading all scorers with 20 points.
"Calvin has as good a chance to start on this team as anybody," said Shaver. "The only question mark for him is how quickly he can adapt to how we like to play. Just like every freshman, he's got to learn our terminology and how we like to play defense. I don't anticipate any problems with that, but it's going to take time. Asking a freshman to take over the starting point guard role in this league is a brutal assignment, but it's something that he certainly won't shy away from. What I like most about him is that he absolutely loves the game of basketball. You can't give him enough and you can't work him hard enough and that's a formula for success."
Also figuring into the mix at the off-guard position will be senior Taylor Mokris, who appeared in 27 games with three starts last season, averaging 3.6 points per game. One of the more accurate long-range shooters on the team, Mokris shot .373 from beyond the three-point line as a sophomore, the 13th-best single-season mark in school history. He has shown the ability to heat up quickly on offense, coming off the bench last year to score a game-high 17 points, along with a career-high nine rebounds, in the Tribe's win at Towson in the final game of the regular season.
"Taylor's experience and knowledge of how to play the game are his strengths and should help him this season," said Shaver. "He's limited physically a little bit in quickness, but as a senior, should be able to make up for that with his knowledge. Taylor's got to be more consistent defensively and on the boards, but he is a proven scorer at this level and hopefully will have a good senior year."
Junior Adam Trumbower and sophomore Kyle Carrabine round out the guard position. Both saw limited action last season, but will continue to press for time in the lineup this year. A 6-7 guard who worked hard in the weight room over the summer, Carrabine saw his preseason workouts cut short by mononucleosis early in the fall. Another natural two-guard who will likely also see time at the point, Trumbower made three starts and averaged 13.3 minutes per game in the first two seasons of his career as a walk-on.
"Kyle's a very good shooter who did a nice job in the off-season getting stronger," said Shaver. "We think he should be completely healthy by the time the season starts. He's a proven scorer and will continue to get more playing time for us as soon as he is consistent defensively and on the boards.
"Adam Trumbower is everything you can ask for in a player," said Shaver. "He's a special person who always gives great effort and is constantly pushing himself and pushing his teammates."
Leading the way at the power forward position is junior Corey Cofield, the 2004 CAA Rookie of the Year, who led the team and finished in the top 15 in the CAA in a variety of categories, including scoring (13.2 ppg), rebounding (6.9 rpg) and field goal percentage (.480). Cofield's biggest improvement last season may have been at the free throw line, where he converted 80.4 percent of his attempts (fourth-best in the CAA) after shooting just .634 from the line as a freshman. Cofield led the league in both free throws made (144) and attempted (179) last season.
A third team all-conference pick for the second straight season, Cofield opened the year by averaging 22.0 points and 8.0 rebounds per game at the inaugural W&M Tip-Off Classic, earning him tournament MVP and CAA Player of the Week honors. Including his 24-point, 10-rebound performance in the championship game, he went on to record five double-doubles on the year, and scored more than 20 points in a game seven times, despite being the focal point of opposing defenses night-in and night-out. Cofield enters his junior season having already accumulated 752 points and 385 rebounds and a career average of 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.
"Physically Corey has really gotten stronger. He committed himself to the weight room this summer and I think people will see a different body on him this year," said Shaver. "He'll be able to take the abuse that he receives inside a little better this year. The biggest question about Corey will be if he has improved his ball skills enough to be a truly great player. Getting into a little bit better position, being able to make the 15-foot jump shot, catching the ball and scoring on the break more consistently than he did a year ago*those are the areas that he has to continue to work on. There is definitely a new energy to Corey now that wasn't there consistently last year, and we hope that will push him to a new level and make him an even better player this season."
Also expected to be a fixture in the starting lineup at small forward is sophomore Laimis Kisielius, a CAA all-rookie pick last season. Kisielius played in every game but the CAA Tournament quarterfinal, which he missed due to injury, and started 20 games overall, including 14 of the last 16. The Tribe's second-leading scorer with 8.7 points per game, he improved as the season went on, averaging nearly 12 points per outing in the final 11 games of the regular season. A native of Lithuania, Kisielius spent most of the summer in his home country competing for the Lithuanian Junior National team, which finished second at the Under-20 European Championships.
"Laimis is a proven player for us," said Shaver. "Last year he was one of the top five freshmen in the league and I really think he is a better player right now. This summer he probably played more than anybody with his time on the Lithuanian team and has come back a better player across the board. Right now, he's shooting better, he's running better and he's passing better. The two things we'll ask more out of him are to become a better rebounder and become more consistent with his shot. He's another guy that loves the game of basketball, which is one of the things that appealed to me when we recruited him."
The Tribe's third returning starter at forward is senior co-captain Hawley Smith, who played his first season in a W&M uniform in 2004-05 after transferring from Temple following his sophomore season. Smith played in all 29 games last year, leading the Tribe with 28 starts. He finished second on the team with 5.6 rebounds per game and was third with 8.0 points per game. Smith started his Tribe career by averaging 17.0 points and 5.5 rebounds per game at the season-opening W&M Tip-Off Classic, earning him a spot on the all-tournament team.
"Hawley was the first guy that our staff signed at W&M and he's been a great leader for us," said Shaver. "Even if he never scored a point for us, he's been well worth it. His leadership, what he's done to help us recruiting, what he stands for. He's very visible and well-known on campus. He's probably a natural power forward, but will play both three and four for us this year. What we want most out of Hawley this year is to be a defensive stopper and rebound the ball."
Also returning at the forward position is walk-on sophomore Chris Stratton, who played in 14 games with one start last season.
"You've got to love what Chris has done to improve his body physically," said Shaver. "He's physically stronger than he was a year ago and always gives everything he has. Chris stands for all the right things in our program and is a great young guy to have on the team."
Two freshman forwards also join the team this season, with both expected to have lasting impacts on the program. Chris Darnell played for North Stafford High School, where he was a second team all-state selection and a participant in the Virginia East-West All-Star game last season. A native of Greenville, South Carolina, Alex Smith played last season for national power Oak Hill Academy, which ended the year ranked No. 1 in the nation in the USA Today Super 25 Boys' Basketball Rankings.
"Chris is going to be knocking on the door for minutes at the three spot also," said Shaver. "He has very good instincts on the floor and when he gets a little bit stronger and realizes he can be an inside and outside player, he should have a bright future. His greatest strengths are that he is a long, quick defender and can run the floor very well, and I think in time he will be a very good rebounder from the three spot.
"Right now, Alex is more of an inside player," said Shaver. "He is a physical beast for us right now and is ready to play at this level right away. Alex is a powerful, explosive athlete with the ability to block shots and to rebound the ball. There is no question that he has a chance to have an immediate impact with our team."
W&M returns two senior centers in 2005-06 in 6-10 Nate Loehrke and 6-9 Brian Hutt, who each rank among the career blocked shots leaders in school history. Loehrke played in 27 games with three starts last season, averaging nearly five points and three rebounds per game. He showed that he has the ability to explode offensively in 2004-05, scoring 21 points on 9-13 shooting in 25 minutes against eventual CAA champion Old Dominion and dropping 16 points on 6-8 shooting in just 13 minutes at eventual NCAA champion North Carolina.
"Nate's a young guy that I'm very proud of today. He worked very hard in the weight room this summer to improve his strength," said Shaver. "He has the best touch on our ball club. If we need a post player to make a game-winning shot and know that we can get him the ball on the block, he's the guy we're going to. What we want out of Nate this year is improvement in the other phases of his game. He's got to defend better and he's got to rebound better, but we think that because he is physically stronger this year, he will be in better condition and will have a chance to make more of an impact this season."
Hutt was hampered much of last season with a shoulder injury and had surgery over the summer to fix the problem. Still, he appeared in 28 games with two starts and tied Cofield and Loehrke for the team lead with 17 blocked shots, also adding 2.3 rebounds and 2.2 points per game.
"Brian really had his off-season taken away from him as he spent most of it rehabbing from his surgery," said Shaver. "We feel good right now that the shoulder is more stable and that hopefully it will not cause him problems throughout the year, as it did last season. We're not going to ask a lot out of him offensively, but Brian should be one of our better rebounders and one of our best post defenders. If he can do that, he will play a key role in our success."
Rounding out the Tribe roster is freshman Peter Stein, a native of Bellaire, Texas, who helped lead Westbury Christian to three Texas Private School state championships, including his senior season when his team finished with a record of 34-6. Stein averaged 12 points and eight rebounds as a senior, shooting over 56 percent from the field.
"I think Peter will immediately push for playing time and a starting position," said Shaver "He's already our best post defender right now and he moves very well for being 6-9. He's another player that was very well coached in high school and really understands the subtleties of the game. He's more prepared to play defensively than offensively right now, but he's a very promising, exciting player and will push hard for a starting role and lots of playing time."
For the second straight season, the Tribe will open the campaign at home with the W&M Tip-Off Classic, as the College looks to defend last season's title. The Green and Gold will play all nine of its non-conference games by the end of the 2005 calendar year, including games against in-state opponents Hampton, Longwood and Virginia Tech, along with a New Year's Eve game at Richmond, the first time the two schools have met in basketball since the Spiders left the CAA following the 2000-01 season.
Two new schools join the CAA this season, and the College will play both of them*Georgia State and Northeastern*for the first time in school history. Their addition brings the total number of schools in the league up to 12, necessitating an unbalanced schedule for the first time in conference history. The Tribe will play seven of the teams both at home and on the road, but will face the other four just once (Northeastern and Towson on the road and Delaware and Hofstra in Williamsburg). All 12 schools will compete in the conference tournament, which will be held at the Richmond Coliseum March 3-6.