The Defiance College men's basketball team will once again be very young in 2019-20 as 12 freshmen, six sophomores and a junior make up the roster. Joining the dozen newcomers are seven returnees, including three starters from last season. Although young, the team is experienced and very talented, according to fifth-year head coach Scott Cutter.
"We have our core back from last year, which is really exciting for our program," Cutter said. "We're young still, but our sophomores are not traditional sophomores if you look at the minutes those guys logged last year, especially in the second half of the year when they were our go-to guys as freshmen. I think that experience is going to carry over on the court."
With a young squad, Cutter needs players to step up as leaders. He identified some veterans who have shown great leadership as the team heads into the upcoming season.
"Three guys that have stood out to me, regardless of how many minutes they play, in just how they've developed maturity-wise and leadership-wise are Sean Tyson, Micaiah Cox and Matthew Cline," Cutter said. "They've done a great job in a leadership role, along with the other sophomores."
Outside of the veterans, some freshmen have shown progress in the preseason and will be battling for action on the floor.
"First, there is competition every day," Cutter said. "There are guys that are very close to each other and we're still trying to figure out who's going to get those minutes.
"But, I could see Owen Hiegel from Ottawa-Glandorf having a big role on our team and Jack Kolar from Cincinnati can really shoot the ball. David Perkins, off the bench, will play a large role this year and Chase Glock from Stryker will most likely get some playing time, along with Avonte Jones and Antonio Green."
Basketball, as with most sports, is about putting points on the scoreboard. Cutter feels that is one positive of his 2019-20 Defiance team.
"We're going to be able to score the ball at a high rate, there's really no question in my mind," Cutter said. "We just have a lot of different pieces – guys that can go off the dribble mixed with some guys that can really shoot it. Scoring the basketball will be a strength for us.
"When you have a team as young as ours is, developing on the defensive end of the floor and rebounding will be important. Just the importance of that is what we're trying to work on every day with our guys. That's a challenge for anybody who's coaching a young team – for your players to realize how important those parts are if you want to be a championship-level team."
Tyson (Columbus, Ohio/Centennial), a sophomore, is back at point guard after starting all 25 games and leading the team in minutes (31.9 a contest) last year. He averaged 11.2 points and a team-high 4.1 assists per game as a freshman. Backing up Tyson are Green (Columbus, Ohio/Pickerington Central) and Hiegel (Ottawa, Ohio/Ottawa-Glandorf).
"Sean's a super dynamic player and a tremendous playmaker for his teammates," Cutter said. "He's our engine and a high energy guy."
At the No. 2 guard spot, sophomore Marell Jordan (Lafayette, Ind./Jefferson) returns after tossing in 11.0 points per outing in 2018-19. Jordan started 12 games, including 11 of the last 14 in his first campaign at DC. Hiegel can also play on a wing.
"At the 2, pretty much all the minutes will be taken by Hiegel and Marell Jordan," Cutter said. "Marell had some huge games as a freshman and will play a big role on our team."
A pair of freshmen, Kolar (Cincinnati, Ohio/Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy) and Jones (Columbus, Ohio/Pickerington Central), are expected to compete for playing time at the No. 3 position.
"At the 3, Kolar and Avonte Jones will take all the minutes there, most likely," Cutter said.
Defiance's leading scorer and rebounder from a season ago, sophomore Tyler Andrew (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence Central), will play one post position. As a freshman, he paced the Yellow Jackets with 13.2 points and 6.6 boards a game while starting 23 times. Perkins (Indianapolis, Ind./Lawrence North) should also see plenty of time down low.
In the No. 5 position, Cox (Fort Recovery, Ohio/Fort Recovery) is anticipated to get a lot of minutes after shooting a team-best 60.5 percent (26 of 43) from the field last year. Glock (Stryker, Ohio/Stryker) is likely to also see plenty of action in the post.
Other players looking to contribute for the Yellow Jackets are sophomore returnees Cline (Fostoria, Ohio/Elmwood), David Ortiz (Pataskala, Ohio/Watkins Memorial) and Jalen Peck (Cincinnati, Ohio/ Lakota East). Freshmen Brandon Barber (DeWitt, Mich./DeWitt), Kevin Garwo (Detroit, Mich./Waterford Kettering), Jabryis Heidelburg (Fremont, Ohio/Ross), Grant Johnson (Waynesville, Ohio/Waynesville), Jerome Johnson (Warner Robins, Ga./IMG Academy) and Tyrelle Stephens (Detroit, Mich./De La Salle Collegiate) add depth for DC and will also be in the hunt for time on the court.
After playing two exhibition games on the road, Defiance opens the regular season with three homes contests, starting with a matchup against Westminster College from Pennsylvania on Saturday, Nov. 9 at 5 p.m. The Yellow Jackets host the 45th Annual Purple and Gold Tournament on Nov. 15-16 before traveling to take part in the Coach Connor Classic at Thomas More University the following week. DC then begins Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference play at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology on Dec. 7.
"We're real excited that our first three games are at home," Cutter said. "We have not had that and been on the road a lot early the last couple years. Westminster is really good and was one three-point shot away from making the NCAA Tournament last year, and they return most of their core, so that will be a challenge. A goal for our team is also to win our own tournament, which we have not done since I've been here."
In the HCAC, Transylvania University was chosen by the conference's head coaches as the top team in 2019-20, followed by Hanover College and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. But, Cutter believes there could be many more contenders for the HCAC title this season.
"I'm not just saying this – you can ask the other nine coaches in our league – it is as wide open as wide open can be," Cutter said of the quest for the conference championship. "Transy has a lot back on paper and they're picked to win it. They'll have a nice team for sure, but I think there will be a lot of close games this year."
Cutter really likes the makeup of his 2019-20 Defiance squad and is anxious to see what the new season brings.
"I'm really excited and proud of our guys' first three months on campus for what they're doing in the classroom and the effort they're making every single day to represent the college and the community," he said. "There is a conscious effort for our team to do that the right way and to treat their teammates the right way. We really try to run our program as best we can in a first-class fashion where everyone around here can be proud of what we do, whether we win games or lose games."