GOSHEN, Ind. – As the Goshen College men's basketball team opens its season tonight against Aquinas College, the question on everyone's mind is what to expect.
The Maple Leafs made history last season, riding a 13-game winning streak early in the year to the program's first-ever national ranking, reaching as high as #12 in the NAIA DII national polls. They struggled down the stretch, though, dropping 12 of their final 17 games, including a loss in the MCC Quarterfinals.
As they suit up in 2012-13, sixth-year head coach Gary Chupp has a drastically different look on his roster. Following graduation, injury, and transfer, the Leafs return just one starter and just over 25% of their scoring from a year ago leading Crossroads League coaches to pick them 10th in the preseason poll.
The role of underdog does not faze Chupp or his squad, however, who are looking for big things in 2012-13.
"Our goal is to get to Branson (site of NAIA DII National Championship) and we know what kind of a challenge that is," Chupp said. "Playing in one of the toughest NAIA conferences in the country, we realize if we can get into the top half of the league, we will be in the conversation for a national tournament berth."
"People outside of our program may not have those expectations for us because of some of the guys we have lost, but inside of our program, we certainly have those expectations," he continued. "There is no question that we are going to be a lot better than what people who don't know some of our new guys and the make up of our team may think, but we expect to be very good."
According to Chupp, the best parts of his team's make up are its leadership, attitude, and athleticism. He has a total of 13 upperclassmen on the roster, including five seniors who are not willing to settle for "less than our best effort" at any point and have already led the team's approach of "not making excuses for anything."
The athletic piece of the roster is based on a number of players who have uncanny versatility along with the team's overall speed. Chupp has big men like 6-foot-6 Matthew Martin and Jan Zawadzki who are more than capable of knocking down outside shots, while somewhat undersized Matt Glick and Kyle Capps have the physical tools to be a presence in the paint.
Meanwhile, the duo of Kyle Davis and Stefon Luckey could be the quickest guard combo in the conference leading an attack - along with 6-foot-4 swingman Jerron Jamerson - which Chupp hopes to be relentless in pushing the pace of the game.
Coach Chupp continues to rely on a tough schedule to help prepare his team for the rigors of Crossroads League play. The Maple Leafs play a total of 14 games against teams who appeared in the NAIA DII preseason poll, but will have the advantage of playing their first five contests at home as they look to get off to a strong start.
Here is a closer look at some of the players who will be suiting up for the Maple Leafs in 2012-13:
Chupp has two "true" point guards in the aforementioned Davis and Luckey. A senior, Davis had his best season two years ago when he poured in 9.2 points a game to go with 3.1 assists and 3.7 rebounds per contest. He is joined by the sophomore, Luckey, who transfers in from Glen Oaks Community College where he dished out four assists and scored seven points per game.
The athleticism continues on the outside for the Leafs with junior transfer Jerron Jamerson and sophomore Thomas Leonard. A South Bend native, Jamerson returns to Indiana after spending two years at a very strong Owens Community College program in Ohio. A jumper for the Maple Leaf track program, Leonard has "played himself" into a role and will be a part of Goshen's attack minded style of play.
Senior Tavo Parral is called the "best pure shooter" on the team by Chupp and will be called upon to knock down open shots created by the Leafs explosive group of guards. Sophomore Jake Clemens and freshman Konstantinos Vourgiotis could also see time off the bench.
The early season blow to the Maple Leafs was the loss of senior Sean Day who suffered a season-ending knee injury. Without Day - one of the top shot blockers in the nation last season - in the lineup, Goshen lacks some depth inside.
Two mainstays do return, though, in Martin and Glick. A great inside-outside threat, Martin averaged 11.3 points and 4.6 rebounds a contest last season and will be called on to carry some of the offensive load as well as increase his role as a rebounder. Glick is what Chupp calls a "glue guy," otherwise known as a player with a high basketball IQ that is always in the right place at the right time.