Depth could be key for Blue Hawk men's basketball teamThree consecutive missed layups was enough to make Ty Orton turn away from the action, put his hands on his head and look up to the ceiling.
By: Dustin Monke, The Dickinson Press
Three consecutive missed layups was enough to make Ty Orton turn away from the action, put his hands on his head and look up to the ceiling.
It was just practice, but the Dickinson State men’s basketball coach was showing his frustrations because troubling moments like that haven’t been all that common for his Blue Hawk team in preseason practices.
“They’re a group that if you would have walked in the second day of school and watched them play, they might have looked really, really strong,” Orton said. “Now you come in today and, putting them together as a team, they’re going to struggle through some things. Their defense isn’t as sound as it needs to be. Their offense isn’t clicking the way it needs to be.”
However, it doesn’t take long for the sixth-year head coach to cheer up about his team, which he said could be the deepest he’s ever coached.
“There’s a lot of guys who deserve to play,” Orton said. “Hopefully we play a style where they all play.”
DSU is going to need depth if it hopes to stay competitive in the Frontier Conference.
Teams the Blue Hawks have historically played in November and December as part of their nonconference schedule are now league opponents. DSU also will compete in NAIA Division I as opposed to Division II when it was a member of the Dakota Athletic Conference. Division I is at a higher scholarship level than Division II.
Orton’s teams are 23-32 against Frontier opponents and were 32-30 against DAC teams.
Stepping into a new league hasn’t deterred anyone on the team though.
“If we want to beat the best, we’ve got to play the best,” DSU senior guard John Hanstad said. “We might as well understand that it doesn’t matter. We’ve got to beat them anyway. We might as well play them.”
The Blue Hawks open their season against the University of Manitoba at 7 p.m. today at Scott Gymnasium.
Orton is confident in his team — which per usual includes almost an even mix of returners and newcomers — and is hoping today’s game provides a glimpse of what the team needs to improve before it gets into the bulk of its nonconference schedule in November.
Leading the way is senior Matt Lee, a preseason all-Frontier Conference pick and two-time NAIA All-America honorable mention selection.
The 6-foot-6 forward from Ogden, Utah, averaged 12.1 points and 8.4 rebounds per game last season and is averaging 12.1 points and 7.9 rebounds per game for his career. If he scores 14 points tonight, he will reach the 1,000-point milestone.
“Matt has had probably his best start to the year yet, in fall,” Orton said. “He’s really been taking a leadership role, a very positive leadership role.”
Hanstad, a Dickinson High School graduate and a captain alongside Lee, will likely open the season as the team’s starting shooting guard. He averaged 9.1 points per game last season.
A trio of transfers — James Hayden, a 6-foot senior point guard; Johnie Sanders, a 6-4 senior small forward; and junior Phillip Johnson, a 6-6 senior power forward — are also expected to be in the starting lineup tonight, though Orton said DSU’s depth could put their lineup in flux from game to game.
Senior Jarek Hansen, a 6-7 forward who averaged 7.4 points and 2.4 rebounds per game last season, and sophomore Tevin Russell, a 6-3 transfer guard/forward from San Antonio, Texas, are both expected to make impacts off the bench.
Anthony Hodges, a 5-9 junior point guard, is expected to share ball-handling duties with Hayden.
“We’re pretty happy with those two at the point guard position,” Orton said.
Orton is pleased with the team’s depth in general.
He expects junior guards Robbie Morey and Brock Boos, who is coming off a season-ending knee injury, to contribute in off-the-bench scoring roles they thrived in as freshmen. Junior transfer Ty Ackelson provides another complement as a long-range shooter. Junior forward Isiah Thomas and junior guard Donavyn Persley will also come off the bench.
“Everyone is really coming together well,” said Morey, a Dickinson Trinity High School graduate. “Practice has been fun. It’s been really competitive at practice, but in a good way where we push each other and make each other better.”
Perhaps the biggest unknowns at this point, however, are how well true freshman Ryan Sullivan and Tim Benedict will develop. Sullivan is a 6-3 swingman from Sidney, Mont., and Benedict is a 6-6 post from Wright, Wyo. Both are likely to suit up for the Blue Hawks, though Sullivan is expected to see more playing time.
“We’re expecting a lot out of him as a freshman,” Orton said. “We haven’t had a freshman like that in a while. You can just see he knows the game. He’s been taught the game, he’s smart.”
Though Orton still sees many areas where the team needs to improve, he is confident DSU can improve on last year’s 10-19 record despite the added difficulty of playing in a more difficult conference.
“I told them (Monday) after practice, ‘It’s not where we’re at right now,’ Orton said. “We’ve got to slow down and make sure we’re doing things right. We’re going to have some bad practices. It’s going to be tough, but we’re going to have to work on those things and your mistakes are going to have to be pointed out in order to learn.”
DSU men’s basketball
Head coach: Ty Orton (sixth season)
Assistant coaches: Pierce Brooks, Johnny McDonald
Last year: 10-19 overall, 1-5 Dakota Athletic Conference, 2-9 vs. Frontier Conference opponents
Season opener: 7 p.m. today vs. University of Winnipeg at Scott Gymnasium
Returning starters: Matt Lee, 6-6, Sr., F (12.1 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 2.4 apg, 1 spg, 54 FG%); John Hanstad, 6-3, Sr., F (9.1 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 1.4 apg, 47 3-pointers).
Returners: Jarek Hansen, 6-7, Sr., F (7.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 1 apg, 72 FT%); Brock Boos, 6-2, Jr., G (5.2 ppg, 1 rpg, 16 3-pointers); Robbie Morey, 6-2, Jr., G (3.5 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 1.4 apg, 23 3-pointers); Isiah Thomas, 6-3, Jr., F (1.3 ppg, 1.3 rpg); Donavyn Persley, 6-0, Jr., G; Destry Sterkel, 6-9, Sr., C.
Newcomers: Ty Ackelson, 5-11, Jr., G; Tim Benedict, 6-6, Fr., F/C; James Hayden, 6-0, Sr., G; Anthony Hodges, 5-9, Jr., G; Phillip Johnson, 6-6, Jr., F; Tevin Russell, 6-3, So., G/F; Johnie Sanders, 6-4, Sr., F; Ryan Sullivan, 6-3, Fr., F.