ROCK ISLAND – The start of the men's basketball season was going to be challenging for the re-tooling Augustana men's program that was hit hard by graduation this last spring.
It appears to be even more difficult than imagined.
Going into Friday's practice ahead of tonight's season opener, veteran coach Grey Giovanine only had two starting spots locked down. He had at least five players expected to contribute who were questionable as to if they would even play tonight.
“I think that's just the reality of where we are right now,” said Giovanine, whose defending CCIW champ and Sweet 16 participant hosts defending NCAA Division III national champ UW-Oshkosh at 7 at the Carver Center. “We have nine new players and we have multiple injuries we are dealing with. That's just the situation we are in.”
Giovanine knew he was going to have to replace the dynamic backcourt duo of All-Americans Chrishawn Orange and Nolan Ebel along with starting power forward Brett Benning.
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That task is even more daunting with senior guard Austin Elledge struggling with a strained groin muscle Giovanine said he injured three minutes into Tuesday's final scrimmage against Benedictine. Freshman guard Carter Duwa, who is in line for playing time, had to have an MRI Thursday to check a dislocated shoulder.
Junior Carson Frakes, who could see minutes opened by Benning's departure, practiced for the first time on Thursday after a sprained ankle had him sidelined for much of the condensed pre-season. Senior guard/forward Lucas Simon has not yet been cleared from March ACL surgery.
And on top of that, returning starting center Micah Martin's status is in question for what Giovanine said was “not meeting expectations of the program.”
The Vikings are also trying to integrate a number of new players into the varsity level. According to Giovanine, transfers Jacob Pauley (Geneseo HS/Black Hawk College) and Justin Bottorf (Quincy Notre Dame HS/John Wood CC) are both expected to see time tonight. So are youngsters Jarrett Tribble (moving up from the JV program) and freshman guard Jack McDonald.
Returning starter Pierson Wofford and returning reserve Jack Jelen have the two confirmed starting spots and will be joined in the rotation by returners Donovan Ferguson, Roman Youngblut, and Frakes, depending on his health status.
“I knew coming in this was going to be a process this year,” said Giovanine, who opens his 21st season at the Viking helm. “We're going to have to really evolve and develop as the season goes on. It's a tough start, but that's OK. We'll be exposed and hopefully learn from it.”