The Drake University men’s basketball inched one step closer to the 2012-13 season on Monday afternoon with its annual media day.
The Bulldogs used the afternoon to preview the upcoming season with the local media as optimism abounds with the squad returning five players that were in the starting lineup and eight talented newcomers to the fold.
“We’re a more skilled team this year than I’ve had in all five years here. I really believe that,” head coach Mark Phelps said of his developing roster. “We have guys in our program that can score. Ben Simons is going to be one of the better scorers in our league and you re-introduce a better, stronger Seth VanDeest – a guy we didn’t have the luxury of throwing the ball into last year.”
While technically not a newcomer, the return of VanDeest, who missed 2011-12 with shoulder surgery, is one of the biggest pieces to the puzzle for Phelps’ squad.
“I know his [VanDeest’s] shoulders are better than they’ve ever been,” Phelps said. “He ended up having repair on both shoulders and they’re better than they’ve ever been. He’s bigger, he’s stronger and we’re encouraged by what we see right now.”
However, no one is looking forward to seeing No. 45 back on the court than VanDeest himself and fellow post presence Jordan Clarke.
“It was tough sitting on the sideline not being out there with the guys,” VanDeest said. “But I’m looking forward to getting out there and making an impact this year.”
“I just feel more comfortable,” Clarke said of having VanDeest back. “Last year I wasn’t as comfortable. I almost forgot what it was like because I played the five all of last year. He’s a really good talker, really good communicator and a great passer. He’s just really good to have on the floor, I missed him a lot last year.”
The corps of veterans also includes second team all-MVC selection Ben Simons who is the team’s top returning scorer after pouring in 16.4 points per game last season. The senior has enjoyed the camaraderie of his younger teammates, but is eager to make the most of his final season in the Knapp Center.
“It’s going to be an exciting group with the people that we have coming back and the newcomers we’ve added,” Simons said. “We’ve created bonds throughout the summer and the fall that are going to be tough to break. It’s so fun coming to the gym. There’s a lot of excitement each time we come in for a workout or a practice, but I just want to win this year. With one year left, I’ve got to leave it all out there on the line.”
Nearly half of the team’s newcomers are extremely experience players including guard Chris Hines who transferred from Utah where he averaged 9.6 points per game and started 26 games for the Utes. Hines anticipates being able to bring his leadership and vocal presence to the court for the Bulldogs this season. Other experienced newcomers include junior college transfers Gary Ricks, Jr. and Richard Carter at the guard spots as well. The trio has Phelps ‘encouraged’ by the offensive prowess of his backcourt.
Fans will have the opportunity to welcome back the veterans and get their first look at the newcomers during the team’s annual Primetime Preview on Thursday, Oct. 18 at 7 p.m. in the Knapp Center. The team will also participate in the tipoff breakfast at the Des Moines Marriott downtown on Thursday, Oct. 25 at 7 a.m.
To purchase your tickets to catch the Bulldogs entire exciting home schedule, click here or call 515-271-DOGS.