2014-2015 team photo for Grace men's basketball
Last winter, the Lancers’ men’s basketball team struggled in consistency. The ups and downs of the 2013-14 season were evidenced by an 0-5 start in the Crossroads League followed by three straight upsets of NAIA Top-25 ranked teams.
Grace found its groove in the postseason, however. As the No. 6 seed in the CL Tournament, Grace advanced to the tournament championship game. As the No. 7 seed at NCCAA Nationals, the Lancers danced their way to the national title game before losing by two.
In his 38th season leading the Lancers, legendary head coach Jim Kessler has racked up 699 career coaching victories. He is hoping to point the Lancers to a more constant performance in 2014-15.
“Consistency will be huge this year. If we can be consistent, we’ll be competitive. We have to develop trust in each other and prepare well,” Kessler said. “This group realizes they need to work hard and work smart to reach their potential. Consequently they’ll get better as the season goes on. We are a work in progress.”
After graduating All-American Greg Miller, the Lancers will be led by junior point Logan Irwin (13.3 ppg, 4.5 apg), who was named to the 2014 NCCAA All-Tournament Team. He’ll be joined by sharpshooting wingmen Niko Read (11.0 ppg) and Brandon Vanderhegghen (8.7 ppg) as well as versatile Caleb Featherston (6.3 ppg) in the backcourt. Vanderhegghen has potential to be “one of the best sixth men in the country,” according to Kessler.
Irwin, Read, Vanderhegghen and Featherston each have the ability to take a game over in Kessler’s opinion. A key, according to Kessler, will be “finding and riding the hot hand” each game from the perimeter. The team will feature a motion offense that moves quickly and shares the ball generously as a collective unit.
The Lancers will not hurt for height this year with senior centers Dennis Williams (6-foot-11) and Adrian Makolli (7-1) manning the paint. The pair has potential to change each game due simply to their presence. “We’ll be as big as anyone in the NAIA – we’ll look great in the airport. Other teams have to be aware of where [Dennis and Adrian] are. They change how you shoot inside with their shot-blocking ability.”
Junior forward Kyle Fillman (5.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg) will team up with freshman Erik Bowen (Kokomo HS) to provide a scoring punch at the power forward position.
Including Bowen, Grace has seven freshmen on the 2014-15 roster. With five new guards, the Lancers will be counting on production from new faces this winter.
“This team is as unknown an entity as I’ve had in a long time. Right now we’re trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together to reach our potential,” Kessler said. “Some choirs aren’t very good because they have talented soloists but don’t sound good as a group. We’ll have to be a group that harmonizes together because we’re not a solo group.”
The Lancers begin the season with the Crossroads Classic on Friday and Saturday. Grace will play Concordia and Andrews in the season-opening tournament at the Manahan Orthopaedic Capital Center. With a win on Friday 8 p.m., Grace will celebrate Coach Kessler’s 700th career coaching victory before Saturday’s home game.