New face expected to fill big shoes

by Aaron Young

Simpson College head men’s basketball coach Charles Zanders and his team have one ultimate dream in mind: To represent the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference [IIAC] in the NCAA National Tournament in early March.

But in order to get to the “Big Dance,” the Storm has a long path ahead of them with a few other goals to achieve before they catch themselves dancing.

“Our number one goal is to not lose at home,” Zanders said. “We have to win the ones we are supposed to win and to try and steal one or two on the road. That’s the formula for a successful season in the Iowa Conference.”

Last season the Storm was 6-4 at home, 5-9 on the road and 1-1 at a neutral location.

The squad is coming off a 12-14, 8-8 IIAC record in 2012, finishing sixth in the conference standings where they earned themselves an IIAC tournament birth. After Beating Dubuque 95-87 in an exhilarating first round playoff game in double overtime, Simpson eventually fell to Buena Vista 86-70 in the semifinals. Losing key players such as All-Conference performers Zack Barragan, Chad Boston and Cornelius Mosby from last year’s team, the Storm make up for it with their size as well as other aspects.

“We’re a big team this year,” Zanders said. “We were a good sized team last year, but we’ve upgraded in size in quite a few areas. I don’t know if we’re as athletic as we were last year, but we are a little bit more fundamentally sound. We’ve added some great shooters to the program this year and with the size and inside presence we have, I think our outside shooting will flourish which will benefit us quite a bit. I think we’ve come in with a better focus on the things we really struggled with last year–defense was not up to par in my opinion and that is something that we really want to build on.”

With practices underway and just a little over three weeks until their first game, Zanders has been thoroughly impressed with the effort his guys have made thus far.

“Practices have been great. The things that we have decided to work on have been the things that we have excelled on so far. I feel good with the path that this team is on and we’ll keep growing and keep getting better,” Zanders said.

The team also brings a few new faces to the program, two of which bringing much collegiate experience to the court already.

“Austin Hennings transferred in to us from South Dakota State University,” Zanders said. “He was an outstanding basketball player in high school at Council Bluffs Thomas Jefferson. We’re relying on him to give us a boost that we lost when losing Cornelius Mosby, so it’s nice to be able to put a player of Austin’s caliber in there. He’s got some big shoes to fill but I think he’ll be fine.”

Junior guard Logan Hamm is another transfer Zanders sees in making an impact for the Storm.

“Logan is transferring from AIB where he was the third leading scorer on their team. He shot in the mid-forty percentile in three-point percentage. He’s done quite well already to this point,” Zanders said.

Another key player who the coaching staff is really anticipating on seeing flourish is sophomore forward AJ Arrington, who will be making his first full season in the Simpson red and gold. Arrington transferred at the start of the spring semester last year.

“This is his first full year with us and we’re excited about him,” Zanders said. “He’s lost about 25-30 pounds and he looks really good and has been focused, working very hard in the off-seasons. I think you’re going to see some big things out of him before the year is over.”

Key players returning for the Storm are senior guards Elijah Knox and Ryan Stumbo, sophomore forward Drew Bentley and senior forward Olu Rotibi. Knox averaged 9.2 points per game, 3.4 assists per game and played in all 26 games, starting 25 of them. Bentley averaged 8.4 points per game and Rotibi averaged 4.8 pints per game. As far as leaders on the team, Knox and Stumbo, who are also the team’s captains, have taken the bull by the horns according to Zanders.

“They have flourished in that role,” Zanders said. “They have shown great leadership not only on the basketball court, but in society in general. Both of them are outstanding students. They represent Simpson in the highest degree and they are great examples of mentors for our young kids to follow as they continue through their years here at Simpson.”

Besides the transfers and returning players, Zanders and his staff are very pleased with the recruiting class they have added coming into this season.

“Size was a primary focus for us and we brought in two 6’7” kids. We brought in some great shooters. This is year three of my coaching tenure [at Simpson], and this is the year that you really start to see guys get excited about your program.

“They see the vision of what we’re trying to accomplish and every year I think we’ve gotten better. We’re ready to make that next step by winning the conference championship and go dance a little bit in the NCAA tournament,” Zanders said.

Simpson will open up their 2012-2013 season Nov. 16 against Bethel University at St. Paul, Minn.