MW MENS BASKETBALL: Bluejays gear up for seasonWORTHINGTON — Even though the Minnesota West Bluejays men’s basketball team finished 10-15 overall last season, coach Justin Heckenlaible feels this could be a break out year for his team.
By: Jordan Willi, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Even though the Minnesota West Bluejays men’s basketball team finished 10-15 overall last season, coach Justin Heckenlaible feels this could be a break out year for his team.
“We did some really good things last year, and then we had a bunch of really close losses to end the conference season,” Heckenlaible said. “It was a good year, but it was also a learning year.”
A major contributor to the Bluejays below .500 finish was the loss of freshman guard Orie Brown, who was sidelined with a knee injury just eight games into the season. Before he went down for the season, Brown was averaging 19.5 points and six rebounds per game.
“We kind of had two seasons last year,” Heckenlaible said. “Once Orie [Brown] blew his knee out, we had to change a lot of things and revamp a lot of things. It took us a while to get it figure out, but once we did we played really well.”
Aside from Brown, MW is returning five other players from last year’s battle tested squad.
“We have six guys returning who have been through the league once, so they know what it takes,” Heckenlaible said. “Hopefully that will be a good advantage for us this year.”
The six returning sophomores will bring both experience and knowledge to the team, as well as help stabilize the young talent that has joined the team this season.
“The returning players are going to bring the experience of being through a season and knowing what it takes to get over the hump and win those close games,” Heckenlaible said. “Hopefully, the experience we gained last year will help us with all of that and help compete on every possession.”
The Bluejays also added 10 freshman players who will add depth as well as bring much needed skills to the team.
“We’ve improved our outside shooting, which is good because it was something we were struggling with last year,” Heckenlaible said. “We’ve also got some very versatile guys who can play inside and out. The incumbents are definitely filling in the spaces we’ve need.”
One challenge for the coaching staff will be preparing the freshman class for the rigors of a full season of college basketball.
“For the freshman to succeed, they are going to need to know how hard they are going to have to play every possession,” Heckenlaible said. “Also they will have to get used to the physical-ness of the college game.”
Even with the influx of young talent and the help of veteran leadership, the Bluejays will still have to improve in key areas if they want to keep themselves in games throughout the season.
“Offensively, we need to work on our patience,” Heckenlaible said. “Defensively, we need to be able to guard someone for long possessions in a row. The new guys will also have to adjust to everything, but that is always how it is when you jump from high school ball to college.”
MW will also have to avoid the injury bug and keep as many players on the court as it possibly can.
“Staying healthy will be key to a strong season,” Heckenlaible said. “Last year, we were not able to stay healthy, but this year we have some depth so hopefully we can work through injuries.”
The Bluejays open up the season with back-to-back home games Saturday and Sunday. Saturday, MW takes on Madison Area Technical College at 8 p.m. and then plays Mount Marty College Sunday at 6 p.m. Both games, along with all other home games, will be played at the Worthington High School gymnasium.
“After that first weekend we will know a lot about this team,” Heckenlaible said. “But there are still a lot of games to go after that. Having a number of returning guys will help because you know what they can do and you are hoping the freshman can come along quickly.”
MW begins it southern division schedule with a road game against the Fergus Falls Spartans on Jan. 9. The Bluejays will play their first home division match Jan. 16 against the Ridgewater Warriors.
Daily Globe Reporter Jordan Willi
may be reached at 376-7335.