DAVENPORT — An influx of new faces and a new look to some of the old ones could bode well for the St. Ambrose University men's basketball team this season.|
Veteran coach Ray Shovlain says the bar is set high for his team that returns some solid talent and welcomes up to six newcomers — five transfers and one freshman — who could be impact players this season.
The Fighting Bees need something to shake things up as they try to bounce back from a sub-par 10-20 campaign that included a 3-9 mark in Midwest Collegiate Conference play.
"We think we'll have a really strong season this year coming off an off-year last year," said Shovlain, who begins his 31st year at the SAU helm. "We have a number of quality guys back that made significant improvements over the summer that had them better prepared mentally and physically. Combine that with some first-year guys who could be pretty significant contributors and things are looking pretty good."
Key returners are led by Nick Frazier (6-foot-2, Jr., G, Proviso West HS/Bellwood, Ill.), Darren Galloway (6-3, Sr., G, Davenport North HS) and Sam Ainsworth (6-5, Soph., F, Fenwick HS/Elmhurst, Ill.).
Those key newcomers are junior transfers Ty Deal (6-foot, G, Peoria Richwoods HS/Lincoln College — who was in camp for one game last season), Darian White (6-3, G, Peoria High/Trenton CC), Terrell Dixon (6-5, F, Chicago/Black Hawk East), Rex Farmer (6-7, F/C, Edmond, Okla., via North Oklahoma) and Damian Trost (6-8, C, Aurora, Colo., via Fort Scott CC).
The only true freshman on the varsity roster is Justin Halloran (6-6, F, Notre Dame Prep/Des Plaines, Ill.), who is expected to see plenty of court time.
"One of the reasons I feel we're going to be real solid is because of the depth we've got," said Shovlain. "We really feel we've got legitimately 12-15 guys we can go to who can play."
One of the biggest things that may favor the Bees is the addition of Deal, who will take over at point guard. That will allow many of the other players in the program to matriculate at their more natural positions, according to the coaches.
The influx of talent also gives the Bees plenty of flexibility in their style of play.
"We're very athletic this year," said Galloway. "This year, another thing we've got some big guys now and that will open a lot of things up and let us work inside-out. Along with that, we'll be really able to step up the intensity defensively."
Shovlain also thinks a big difference is the fact that his club has put a bigger emphasis on defense this season.
Also a key is the ability to either match-up with foes or make themselves a tough match for others.
"We can exploit what other teams won't be able to handle," said Shovlain, noting his team can go guard-oriented or play big with four players at 6-7 or taller.
And, as Frazier says, with eight players back who were significant contributors from last season, nothing should catch the Bees by surprise.
"We're battle-tested," he said, "and feel as if we can make some noise."
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