Russell to His Flock: Value Every Possession!
Thunderbirds hope to make their charge with 'bigs' and depth
Shortly after last year’s season, his first as head coach, Dan Russell sat down with a pen and paper.
No. 1 priority, he wrote: recruit bigger, faster, and hungrier T-Birds to go with players he knew would return. Last year’s team made a nice run, even won a tournament game to finish 20-11, but Russell knew right away he needed to be deeper if he and his Birds were going to hang another banner someday.
Russell had other priorities besides recruiting, of course, like learning from the ups and downs of a Region IX season. He is anxious to share what he has learned with his newest crop of Birds.
The good news is that three players already know what it takes. Tanner Morgan, a 6-9 post, and Chase Riley, a 6-1 guard, both saw extensive action as freshmen. Riley led the nation a year ago in free throw percentage, and Russell hopes he will pick up where he left off behind the arc. Tyler Loose, from Laramie, Wyoming, will play as a redshirt freshman after practicing all last year. Morgan, meanwhile, had a solid year, has looked good in practice, and should get some help inside.
One of the bright spots on this year’s team, and something fans will see right away, is an impressive group of “bigs.”
“This is one of the better groups of bigs we have had here in quite awhile,” says Russell, who spent five years as a T-Bird assistant coach before taking the head job last year. “We have more physical presence, more girth. The place where you will see it is on the defensive end and rebounding the ball.”
“And George Edwards, Garrett Swanson and Jake will be heading up our front line. We’ve also got some depth on the interior with Gabriel Vazquez and Tanner Morgan.”
Shon Briggs headlines a front line group of seven that are 6-7 or taller. Briggs is a 3-4 combo who can score and rebound. Andre Sands, a sophomore transfer from Hutchinson Junior College, is a big body who will share duties at the post with Tanner, Jalen Canty and Benson Asayande, two talented freshmen. Canty signed a Division I football letter of intent with Washington State but decided to play basketball instead.
George Edwards and Garrett Swanson accounted for 30 points and 10 rebounds a game last year. With the aforementioned front line and a deep, talented frontcourt, Russell thinks he can fill the scoring void.
Hakeem Rogers transferred from Philadelphia’s Harcum Junior College, a team that made the Final Four at Hutchinson last season. At a preseason scrimmage this year he hit seven 3-pointers in a half. Rogers came out here with Russell’s new assistant coach Kevon Davis, who assisted on that Harcum team.
Keanu Peters (Las Vegas) “has a chance to be a special player,” according to Russell. He and Loose will play the point. Dylan Alexander, a transfer from San Jose State, is athletic and can score. He has great size and can play all three perimeter positions.
Russell says he will use Riley as a specialist; “we want him to shoot the ball.”
Justin Daniel, a transfer from Coastal Carolina, is another great athlete with length.
Shymer Brewster-Russell and Jack Nadelhoffer are two more players who will see time on the perimeter.
This year, the T-Birds have an opportunity to host the Region IX tournament if they can win the north sub-region. Not only that, the NJCAA will take the champion and the runner-up to the 24-team national tournament. Obviously the chance to host Region IX would be a big step toward securing a spot in the championship game. But, Russell says, first things first, like coming together as a team and getting off to a good start.
“Our big thing this fall has been teaching this team to value great shots vs. good shots,” Russell says. “We don’t have to settle for good shots; if we share the ball we can be pretty efficient and get great shots.”
Russell’s No. 1 priority is in the book; he has recruited some impressive athletes. They are longer and bigger. “We wanted talent, depth and buy in,” he says. “I think we have that.”
Now, it’s a matter of priority No. 2. Teach them how to execute and let them go.
Thunderbird fans get to watch them do it.
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