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For the Blue Hawks, plenty to ponder as conference schedule begins

If there were one player on the Dickinson State men's basketball team familiar with the prospect of playing on a roster going through an overhaul, it would be junior Marcus White.

Dickinson State senior guard Jake Buck dribbles around a Minot State defender on Oct. 26 at Scott Gymnasium. (Samuel Evers / The Dickinson Press)
Dickinson State senior guard Jake Buck dribbles around a Minot State defender on Oct. 26 at Scott Gymnasium. (Samuel Evers / The Dickinson Press)

If there were one player on the Dickinson State men's basketball team familiar with the prospect of playing on a roster going through an overhaul, it would be junior Marcus White.

The 6-foot-6 forward, leading the team in scoring at 16.3 a contest in his first season with the Blue Hawks, came from Salt Lake Community College, which last year began the season with lots of new faces and ended it as Junior College national champions.

For the second year in a row, he finds himself on a such a team.

"We've got, like, eight new players. We're still just trying to see how everybody plays. Last year it was the same way," White said. "We started off rough and we just jelled together and we won the national championship together. It's been rough starting off, but it's getting better now. We're going on the road now, coming off two straight. We've got it down pat a little more."

The official new player count is actually at 11, with six returners from last year. But two of those returners - Dontae Clark and RJ Mager - were redshirts last season. Another one of those six is Reggie Fields Jr., who won't be eligible to play until next semester officially begins. So, on a roster of 17, only three have played for the Blue Hawks both this year and last; the top six scorers through the first nine games didn't play a game for DSU in 2015-16.

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With a 5-4 record heading into Friday night's North Star Athletic Association opener in Jamestown, the play of the Blue Hawks thus far has been described consistently by the Blue Hawks as inconsistent. With all this new talent, it's too early to make any sort of assertions.

There have been blown first-half leads of sizable portions, as well as comebacks from down double-digits. At times, the offense has looked well oiled, and at times, completely out of sync.

Such is life for head coach Justin Wetzel, who knew the type of team this would be at the beginning of the season.

"We've shown tremendous upside, and we've shown inability to be consistent," Wetzel said. "That worries me going into league play because our league is very good."

Around this time last year, DSU was a sound 5-3 entering league play. The Blue Hawks won their first NSAA game against Waldorf but won only six of their remaining 19 games after that. This year, Wetzel thinks the scoring balance and particularly the chemistry, albeit a work in progress, has been much better.

In addition, in the early going, and perhaps going forward, White, this year's leading scorer, has been much more efficient than last year's.

"He's been night-and-day. I'm far more comfortable with the way our leading scorer is getting his points than I was a year ago," said Wetzel of White, who's shooting 49.5 percent on almost 11 shots a game. "He's very efficient. He's not a volume shooter by any means."

But there is still reason for concern - turnovers are up from last season and scoring is down.

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The team's overall identity still hasn't materialized yet, said Wetzel, and his team has yet to prove it can compete and win close games. He'll have a better idea of that this weekend, though, when after the Jamestown game, DSU will travel on Saturday to Mayville State for its second conference game in as many days.

Before the season began, NCAA Division II transfer Jake Buck seemed confident this team could figure out its influx of new players. Nine games in, he's leading the team in assists (3.1) and is one of seven Blue Hawks scoring between six and 16.3 points per game.

"Obviously there's still a lot of room for improvement. Little things here and there that we can touch up on, mainly just reducing the turnovers. But I'm still really hopeful that we can come together," said the senior. "Coach said we should be playing our best basketball by the end of the year. It's that grind, staying on that grind, we're still on track for that. You've yet to see the best of the Blue Hawks."

While the cohesiveness and balance of this group figures to get better with time, DSU will get a certain boost when Fields Jr. returns after Christmas. At 11.4 points per game, he's the top returning scorer from last year.

"One thing you have to keep in mind, we get a guy named Reggie back next semester," Wetzel said. "He's one of the best defenders in the league."

Related Topics: BLUE HAWKS
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