MW BASKETBALL: MW men's basketball team looking to play solid defense

WORTHINGTON -- Minnesota West men's basketball coach Justin Heckenlaible might have the best defensive team he's had in years. With a mix of balanced offense and a solid defense, the Bluejays are set for what promises to be a good season. "We're ...

MW's VanDuyn
Brian Korthals/Daily Globe Minnesota West's Josh VanDuyn goes up for a layup during last weekend's men's college basketball game in Worthington.

WORTHINGTON -- Minnesota West men's basketball coach Justin Heckenlaible might have the best defensive team he's had in years.

With a mix of balanced offense and a solid defense, the Bluejays are set for what promises to be a good season.

"We're way further ahead than we have been in several years as far as defense," Heckenlaible said. "We can't always count on scoring. They've really bought into that if we guard but we don't play particularly well, we don't shoot well or if we don't take care of the basketball, we're still in the games."

MW (1-2) won on the road to start the season, but lost twice at the Sixth Annual Sanford Regional Worthington Basketball Classic over the weekend.

"I was very encouraged by our defensive effort," Heckenlaible said of the weekend. "We lost by 15 and 10, and if we would have taken care of the ball on our side and not had so many turnovers that led to easy baskets on their part, we probably would have held both of them in the low 60s. That's going to give us a chance to win. So I was very encouraged with our defensive effort. We can still get better, obviously, but overall, we're way ahead of what we've been in a long time as far as defense."


Offensively, the Bluejays are a little sloppy with the basketball, but that's something Heckenlaible thinks will come with more game experience.

"We just had way too many turnovers and it's very hard to defend turnovers when its layups on the other end," he said. "You also don't get shots. When you get 20-25 less shots, it's hard to score. With the number of new guys that we have on the perimeter, we figured that would take a little bit."

One thing the coach is concentrating on is patients.

"We need to realize when the right time to penetrate is or be able to see the second and third options if the first one isn't there," Heckenlaible said. "I've been using the analogy of the rookie quarterback. If the first guy isn't open, they just go to No. 2 and just whip it and they get an interception. We have to be able to go from option one, and then if that's taken away, look at the second and third options."

MW returns three players from last year's squad. John Jones, Cory Lesnar and Josh VanDuyn all return as sophomores.

"(John has) been coming off the bench the first three games," Heckenlaible said. "He shot it really well in the first game and he hit six 3s. He worked really hard in the summer and in the preseason."

While Jones is providing a spark off the bench, Lesnar and VanDuyn have each found a spot in the starting lineup.

"Cory has been our leading scorer in our first three games," Heckenlaible said. "He's done a really, really nice job. We're having him play more of a perimeter spot this year.


"Josh had a really good weekend," he continued. "He was really active on Friday. He had three or four blocks and has been rebounding really well."

Along with Lesnar and VanDuyn, Dennis Bolton, Monte Metz and Anthony Tomscha have found themselves in the starting lineup through the first three games.

However, Heckenlaible looks for strong contributions from Ben Akoi, Alexandros Papageorgiou, Bill Cloak, Jace Jarmer and Pat Connors. Kang Aluong is currently injured, but will help out inside once he is healthy.

"Every practice and game we're learning a little bit," Heckenlaible said. "I think the turnover part of it is just the trust factor. I think that's getting better every day and with them seeing the films, I think we're going to get better. The guys have been getting together very well. If they continue to buy in and continue to listen and get better, I think we're going to be OK. It's a work in progress."

That work in progress will continue tonight, when Iowa Lakes visits Worthington. However, tough competition like tonight will only help the Bluejays when they begin division play.

"It's going to be a battle every night out," Heckelaible said. "There's not going to be a bad team, so you're going to have to go out and win. The other team is not going to give it to you. I see the league being just as tough as it's always been."

With team success comes individual recognition. With five players in their second year of eligibility, Heckenlaible hopes these players will have opportunities once this season is complete.

"We want them to stay for two years, but if we're the path to get to division II or wherever it is that you want to get to, that's great," Heckenlaible said. "We want to be able to help kids get to the next level."


But before players move on with their basketball careers, the Bluejays hope there are a lot of wins still to earn this season.

"Hopefully we'll get better with taking care of the basketball," Heckenlaible said. "I think we're going to be a very exciting team. Hopefully we'll be starting to create the 25-30 turnovers for the other team and capitalize on those. We're going to be OK."

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