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Minnesota West men's basketball: Bluejays head into new season with new head coach

The Minnesota West men's basketball team for 2017-18 includes (front row from left) Alex Brown, Kevin Carter, Ki'Shawn Syph, Deshawn Pickford, Fraol Balda, Alex Preston and Jeff Hudson, (back row) assistant coach Taylor Lupton, Angel Arroyo, Reggie Colson III, Zion Henderson, Darin Hesebeck, Kuol Chol, Devon Jacobson, Jordan Snelling, Akodhi Ojulu, Tyrone Walker and head coach Aaron Poor Bear. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)

WORTHINGTON -- Every new athletic season is like a pretty package wrapped up in a bow. And until it’s opened and used, you never really know what you’ve got.

“Unpredictability” may be the key word for the upcoming 2017-18 Minnesota West men’s basketball campaign. With a brand new coach and a bunch of new players, predictions don’t mean much at this stage. If Forrest Gump was right when he considered his box of chocolates in the popular film, and said, “You never know what you’re gonna get,” he could have been talking about this winter’s Bluejays outfit.

Wait and see. That’s the fun of it.

What’s certain, at least, is that the new coach, Aaron Poor Bear, loves basketball. And he’s excited about diving in. He will have his best player from the Jays’ previous season, Kuol Chol, in camp for his sophomore season. After that, the team is pretty much a blank slate at this early stage.

Fans will get their best early look at the Bluejays on Friday at the Sanford Basketball Classic in Worthington. Game time is immediately following the Lady Jays’ 6 p.m. game against Northwestern JV, scheduled for an 8 p.m. start.

The tournament continues Saturday with a 4 p.m. women’s game and a 6 p.m. men’s game against Dordt JV.

The Bluejay men will not be tall in 2017-18. In fact, they don’t possess a true center. They do, however, have several talented guards in camp, which plays into Coach Poor Bear’s offensive philosophy.

“I’m hoping to have an up-tempo team. A lot of pressure defensively, a lot of transition,” he said this week. “We can go pretty deep once the guys buy into the system. A lot of adjustments will be made as we move forward.”

What Poor Bear hopes to take advantage of is his players’ speed and quickness. He wants to create more possessions for his players, and that’s just the beginning. “We want to try to run their bigger guys off the floor if we can,” he maintains.

Chol, a lean 6-4 sophomore guard-forward from Ames, Iowa, is the team’s best and brightest known commodity. In his freshman year, he averaged 17.0 points per game, 7.5 rebounds per game and 3.3 assists per game. He connected on 48.2 percent of his field goal attempts.

Three other key players from the 2016-17 squad that posted an 8-18 record under coach Kris Babler, are gone. That includes Jayden Hampton (19.2 points, 2.9 assists per game), Trevoris Waugh (11.8 points, 7.4 rebounds per game) and Brandon Harcula (10.0 points per game). Two others with experience return -- 5-9 guard Kevin Carter of Toledo, Ohio, (4.7 points per game) and 6-6 forward Darin Hesebeck of Lake Park, Iowa, who was hampered by injuries last year but saw some time as a starter.

Others in camp include 6-1 freshman guard Ki’Shawn Syph, 6-3 forward Jordan Snelling, 6-0 sophomore Tyrone Walker, freshman point guard Deshawn Pickford, 6-0 freshman Alex Preston, 5-9 guard Jeff Hudson, 6-2 freshman Angel Arroyo, 6-3 forward Zion Henderson, 6-4 forward Devon Jacobson, 6-3 forward Akodhi Ojulu, and 6-1 guard-forward Alex Brown.

Poor Bear takes over the reins of the program following Babler’s sudden resignation only weeks before the start of preseason practice. He has coaching experience at George-Little Rock High School in northwestern Iowa, Manhattan Christian College, Wagner Community School and South Dakota State University. He also has masters credits in coaching education at Ohio University and a B.A. in health, physical education and recreation at SDSU.

He accepted the Minnesota West interim position while working for the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation, where he handles recruiting for Indian University of North America.

Originally from Pine Ridge, S.D., Poor Bear said he “got addicted to basketball early as a youngster. I loved playing and loved coaching even more.”

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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