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A new Bluejay way: Newcomers to play key roles for first-year Minnesota West head coach Taylor Lupton

Minnesota West Bluejay returnees Deshawn Pickford (left) and Jeffrey Hudson hope to lead the men's basketball team to success in 2018-19. (Aaron Hagen / The Globe)1 / 2
Minnesota West's Jaimon Cheek protects the ball during a practice session. (Aaron Hagen / The Globe)2 / 2

WORTHINGTON -- It will be a new look for the Minnesota West men’s basketball team this year.

Despite having a new head coach and only two returning players, the Bluejays have high expectations the year after a national tournament run.

This year, Taylor Lupton moves from assistant to head coach for the Jays.

“It’s really fun,” Lupton said. “I can’t say it’s all new to me. I did a lot last year too, stepping in. It feels so natural.”

Jeffery Hudson and DeShawn Pickford are the lone returners this season.

“The good thing is they had big roles last year, so that helps,” Lupton said. “Our freshmen are talented. They are there to push the sophomores and the sophomores know that, too.”

But replacing the production from those who moved on will be a challenge.

“You can’t replace guys like that really,” Lupton said. “You just have to get guys who will step into their own role so we can get that flow as a team. We might not need a guy to score 25 or 30 points a night. In a picture-perfect world, everyone scores 10 or 15. We’ll see how it goes.”

Hudson said one of the keys this year will be to use the team’s quickness.

“It’s kind of fun because this team is more unselfish than last year. We get the ball moving a lot more and quicker. It’s faster paced,” Hudson said. “We definitely have a lot of fast guards. If you get tired, we already know we have one more person to replace you because everybody is on the same page and as quick.”  

One advantage this season is the large number of players on this year’s roster.

“It’s fun because it keeps you on your toes,” Hudson said. “You’re playing different people, you have different people guarding you so you get used to different defenses and different styles. It’s a good adjustment.”

While there aren’t any concerns about Minnesota West being able to put up points, early-season scrimmages have left questions defensively.

“We’re going to work on some defense. If you saw the alumni game, we gave up 92 points and that’s a lot of points and we can’t be doing that. We have a lot of emphasis on defense right now,” Hudson said. “We know we can score, that’s not the problem. It’s the defense. We have to be there.”

Coming off a successful year, the expectations remain high.

“I do believe we will have a winning season,” Hudson said. “And I do believe we are going to the tournament. As for winning the tournament, I haven’t seen any other teams, so I can’t really make that assumption. I do believe we have a good chance.”

West opens its schedule on Friday at home with the Sanford Classic.

“It’s one of my favorite tournaments,” Lupton said. “You get to see a lot local guys from around here. It’s a chance for the guys to see some of the four-year schools around here where sometimes they will play guys a little bit older than them. They can see where they need to be at.”