by Tim Miller
The Cedarville University men’s basketball program features many new faces on this season’s roster. The team loses three seniors and the team’s third-highest scorer from a year ago in Dezhonetae Bennett.
Cedarville welcomes seven new players to the roster, including two transfers. Yellow Jacket head coach Patrick Estepp said the roster turnover is a cause for concern. Replacing leadership from a year ago will be a colossal challenge to this season’s team.
Junior guards Grant Zawadzki and Demond Parker come from Indiana Wesleyan and Wilberforce, respectively, and Estepp said they’ve already helped establish a tempo for this year’s group.
“The biggest thing is trying to make up that experience,” Estepp said. “We’ve got a couple guys that are new, but at least they have college experience.”
Senior guards Patrick Bain and Evan Kraatz were named team captains after the team’s 2017 postseason loss to Malone. Bain is the highest scorer of returning players, and Kraatz provided a spark on defense in last season’s campaign.
Estepp said the two seniors have been an immense help in steering the team in the right direction for this season.
“Patrick and Evan have done an unbelievable job with leadership,” Estepp said. “The leadership void hasn’t been much of a void since they hit the ground running.”
The team understands they’ll need to work hard to get to where they need to be with so many unfamiliar players. During offseason conditioning this fall, Estepp said players have gotten to the gym at 5:30 or 6 in the morning to put extra work in before the scheduled workout.
This work ethic has flowed right into the team’s attitude, which Estepp said has been wonderful.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever pushed a team as hard in the preseason as much as I have and they’ve responded,” Estepp said.
3-point shooting could carry CU
Bain is the most talented Yellow Jacket on the roster. Bain averaged 13.5 points per game last season and led the team in scoring 10 times. The Tipp City, Ohio, native was also electric from behind the 3-point line, shooting at a 42 percent clip last season.
Estepp said the team is Bain’s and that the offense will flow through him.
“Patrick Bain is our best player,” Estepp said. “Everyone knows it and he’s the hardest worker we have. A lot of our season will depend on him.”
The lack of size in the front court and abundance of shooting ability in the back court will lead to a barrage of triples this season.
“I do think this team has a little more depth in 3-point shooting than in years past,” Estepp said. “We’re not as big as we hope to be, but we have a lot of good players.”
Estepp said there are up to eight players on the roster who could potentially shoot 40 percent from behind the arc this season. The back court will have the green light to let shots fly, which could lead to a higher scoring offensive attack for the Yellow Jackets.
The tallest player on the roster this season is freshman center Connor TenHove. The 6-foot-8 Valparaiso, Indiana, native may see minutes this season, but isn’t slated to be a key contributor at this stage.
Junior center Robert Okoro stands at 6-foot-6 and is undersized for a five-man. Coupled with 6-foot-6 junior Gabriel Portillo, the Yellow Jackets lack an intense presence down low.
Estepp understands that with the lack of size and raw playmaking ability, his team will have to be more gritty.
“We’re not very big and we’re not crazy athletic,” Estepp said. “I hope it will be in our nature that we’re tough-minded guys.”
The bounty of wing players will force Estepp to change his offensive scheme this season. Players who normally play behind the arc may be asked to post up this season at times.
Estepp specifically pointed out junior guard Kwenton Scott and Bain as players, among others, who may have to bully their way to the bucket on the low post this season.
“I expect Kwenton Scott to really step up and have a season like he’s had in flashes in the past few years,” Estepp said. “His biggest challenge is being consistent.”
Goals for new-look team
Findlay, Hillsdale, Lake Erie, Ohio Dominican and Walsh enter the G-MAC this season, meaning Cedarville won’t get any free games this season. Findlay was a regional runner-up last season. The Oilers lose no key players, so they’ll be even better, Estepp said.
“Our conference has always been top-heavy and now it’s got a lot more depth to it,” Estepp said. “We’ve always played a tough schedule, so I don’t know that our overall strength of schedule will be a ton different.”
Expected to be the major producer of low post scoring this season, Okoro said he expects the team to be well meshed by the end of the season even with uncertainty for how the players will interact.
“By March I think this team is going to be really blended,” Okoro said. “The three seniors are doing a great job of leadership, and we will be able to replace the guys we lose from last season.”
Estepp doesn’t have a win total he wants to hit this season. He plans to game plan for his next opponent and keep his team looking only at the next game. Estepp’s first goal is to start the season 1-0.
“I know these guys are going to compete,” he said. “They’re tough and they won’t quit. Our goal is to make sure we’re playing our best basketball in February and March.”
Tim Miller is a sophomore marketing major and sports editor for Cedars. He enjoys having a baby face, sipping Dunkin Donuts coffee and striving to be the optimal combination of Dwight Schrute and Ron Swanson.