Minnesota-Army Basketball Preview

The Minnesota Gophers basketball team opens the regular season Saturday afternoon against Army after two exhibition wins over in-state Division II teams. Army won 15 games last season, for the first time since 1984-85. The Black Knights return 16 players from last season, including leading scorer and All-Patriot League pick Jarell Brown.

The Minnesota Gophers start the "Tubby Smith" era with their home opener versus Army.

Army has a solid mix of veteran experience and youth with eight upperclassmen, including four seniors and some young talent. They also return three more of its top five scorers from a year ago and 11 players that participated in at least 15 games last season.

"We're excited about what we did last season, but you still start new each season at ground level," said Jim Crews, Army's sixth-year head coach. "With that being said, we had a lot of guys that played instrumental minutes last year coming back. We had great leadership last year, so replacing that is a concern. We're excited about the direction these guys are going."

A key for Army is replacing 1,000-point scorer Matt Bell.

"We need to establish leadership. We had tremendous leadership last year," said Crews. "Also last year, we had an offense that was looking for Matt Bell a lot. Well, Matt's not there this year so we have to look different places. I think that will work out well. We have more guys that are a little bit more of offensive weapons. I think we have more options because of ability and maturity."

Brown will be counted on heavily for his offensive prowess. Brown, a second-team All-Patriot League performer as a junior, averaged a team-high 16.9 points per game. Brown was one of two players last season to appear in all 31 games, coming off the bench in all but five of them. Despite not being a regular starter, Brown still averaged 28 minutes per game.

"Jarell has to stay healthy, number one," Crews commented. "Matt (Bell) isn't going to be there, so Jarell is going to have a little bit of a bulls eye on him. The ability to make other guys better players and to not force the issue are imperative for him."

Senior guard Grant Carter returns after playing in 22 games his junior season. Carter averaged 1.3 points per contest, shooting 42.9 percent from long range (9-21). Senior Ryan Hodgson is the third senior guard on the roster. Hodgson appeared in two games as a reserve last season.

The trio of seniors will have plenty of young talent helping them in the backcourt. Sophomore Marcus Nelson returns after a Patriot League All-Rookie Team selection in 2006-07. Nelson started 19 of his 31 games and led the Black Knights with 78 assists. He scored 3.1 points per game and shot 41.2 percent from the floor. Sophomore Josh Miller also returns to the guard corps after coming on in the second half of last season. Eleven of his 16 appearances came during Patriot League play. He averaged 3.7 points per game overall and in conference games. Miller earned floor time in key situations a year ago. His layup as time expired gave the Black Knights a 47-46 win against Lehigh in the Patriot League quarterfinals. Cleveland Richard was another rookie who proved to be a valuable contributor as a plebe in 2006-07. Richard played in 28 contests, including 15 starts, and scored 2.7 points per contest. He was one of four players on the roster to make at least 10 three-pointers and also handed out 30 assists. Jon Sizemore and Tyrell Thompson round out the second-year guards. Thompson made 15 appearances and averaged 2.7 points per game, while Sizemore did not see any game action as a rookie.

This year's sophomore class will also have an effect on the Black Knights' frontcourt play. Chris Walker earned 20 starts in 2006-07, the most of any Army rookie. He ranked third on the team, averaging 5.3 points per game and was the Black Knights' second-leading rebounder at 3.9 boards a contest. Sophomores Eric Zastoupil, who played 11 times as a plebe and Will Schuh will also vie for playing time at the forward spot.

The effect of having so many youngsters gain valuable playing time early in their careers is not lost on Crews who has utilized younger players throughout his tenure at Army.

"I think the adjustment to playing Division I basketball, being away from home and the environment here at West Point is tough," Crews said. "There are a lot of adjustments that these young guys go through. Now they know a lot more than probably even they think they know just because of being here, and that's on the basketball court too."

The frontcourt also boasts a number of upperclassmen with plenty of experiences to share. Starting with senior Corban Bates, Army has five upperclassmen at the forward position, four of which played in at least 15 games in 2006-07. Bates averaged 18 minutes per game in his career-high 30 appearances, which included five starts. He scored 3.0 points and snared 3.8 caroms per contest last season.

Junior Doug Williams started 10 games as a sophomore, averaging 3.7 points a team-best 4.2 rebounds per game. Both his scoring and rebounding averages jumped during conference action when he posted 4.7 points and 5.1 rebounds per Patriot League game. Junior Kenny Brewer is one of three returning starters. Brewer started in 24 of his 30 games last season and averaged 2.8 points and 1.8 rebounds. Junior John Moonshower, who can play either guard or forward, saw action in 15 games last season, scoring 1.1 points per game and grabbing 1.1 boards per contest. Junior Curtis Koszuta returns for his third season after playing in five games as a reserve in 2006-07.

The returning players will have plenty of opportunity to serve as mentors as the Black Knights' roster is choc full of rookies. Seven players will be donning the black and gold at West Point for the first time, four of whom played at the U.S. Military Academy Prep School last season.

This season's recruiting class has a definite Lone Star State feel to it with four of the seven newcomers calling Texas home. Nathan Hedgecock, a 6-4 guard/forward from El Paso, averaged 19.8 points per game as a senior en route to El Paso Times All-City Boys Basketball Team Co-Most Valuable Player honors. Mitch McDonald, a 5-9 guard, and Rickey Royal, a 6-3 guard/forward combo both hale from Houston. Royal attended the USMA Prep School in 2006-07 after graduating from Spring High School, while McDonald played at Westfield High School where helped the squad to a 36-1 record in 2005-06. William Van Harp rounds out the Texans. The 6-9 forward from Fort Worth was a second-team all-district performer and academic all-state selection at North Crowley High School.

Virginia is also well represented among the 2007-08 newcomers. Rookie forward Jeremy Hence is a product of the USMA Prep School after playing his high school basketball at Massaponax High School in Fredericksburg, Va. Hence scored 1,041 points in his scholastic career and set the school record with eight 30-point games in one season. He averaged 17.7 points per contest at the prep school in 2006-07. Ben Leatigaga was Hence's teammate at USMAPS last season. The 6-0 guard was the Metro Conference Player of the Year at Walsingham Academy and was named all-state by the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association.

Ross Trampler is the largest of the 2007-08 newcomers. Standing 6-10, Trampler played with Hence, Leatigaga and Royal last season at the USMA Prep School. A native of Manalapan, N.J., Trampler lettered twice at The Hun School.

"We're very excited about them (the freshmen), and they're doing a really good job, but there are a lot of things they have to get used to," Crews said about his new crop of recruits. "Our freshman class last year did a really good job for us, but they had their peaks and valleys. It is such a long season and the demands that West Point puts on you are tough. With that being said, we'll have some guys that I think will contribute this year. I really do."

"Playing six of our first eight games on the road is going to be tough," Crews observed. "A lot of teams that we had very good games with last year are back on the schedule. I think that's why it's fun. That's why you play. You can't look at the schedule and say, ‘We'll win that one,' or, ‘We'll lose that one.' That's what makes sports fun. You never know what it's going to bring."

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