Action on the hardwood heats up this week for the Warriors as the basketball season tips off tonight for the Waldorf men with an exhibition game at Northern State.
The Wolves came within a missed 3-pointer of winning the NCAA Division II National Championship last season, and no doubt will test a new-look Warrior team.
“It’s an opportunity,” Waldorf head men’s coach Nigel Jenkins said of tonight’s game at 7, “but honestly, this is more of a family game than anything just from our standpoint.”
A family affair pitting brother versus brother, as the Wolves starting point guard is senior Ian Smith, older brother of Waldorf sophomore guard Brian Smith.
So while it’s a chance for Waldorf to test its game early, it will also be a fun night for two brothers to play on the same court.
When the sibling rivalry is done, the season begins in earnest for the Warriors on Saturday when Waldorf’s men’s and women’s basketball teams host Dordt in the season-openers for all four teams. Women’s action tips off at 6 p.m. at the Hanson Fieldhouse, and the men are scheduled to play starting at 8 p.m.
So what can fans expect when the Warrior men tip off against an NAIA rival?
“With so many new guys, we just don’t know, we’re really unproven,” Jenkins said as the Warriors saw eight seniors move on and return just one starter in Brady Kuchinka.
Kuchinka was second on the team in scoring, averaging 12.8 points per game last year, and also led the team with 66 assists and 57 3-pointers made.
Smith also played in 29 games for Waldorf as a true freshman and averaged 8.5 ppg, giving Waldorf two key returners.
The Warriors also return 6-foot-2 senior role-player Shay Motter, who played in 18 games, 7-3 junior post Gabriel Munoz, who is healthy again after a knee injury, and 6-7 forward Octavius O’Large, 6-3 forward Khalid Manney, and 6-1 guard Harlan Coats Jr., who combined played in 12 games last season.
“This is going to be really fun, I’m looking forward to it,” Jenkins said. “We’ll see what happens.”
Munoz, O’Large and Manney will be key players inside for the Warriors, as Manney moved up from junior varsity to varsity late last season, and O’Large played the first half of last season for Waldorf.
“Gabby’s healthy, the big fella’s healthy,” Jenkins said of Munoz, who as a healthy freshman averaged 2.9 points and 3.5 rebounds in 29 games. “It will be very good to see him for a full season.
“Khalid, that should be an interesting one,” Jenkins added. “He’s a great athlete, defends extremely well, rebounds well; so I expect a ton out of him this year.”
Of course, the Warriors will also expect a lot out of many newcomers like junior-college transfers Demitrius Martin, a 6-2 junior guard, Jemale Brown, a 6-2 junior guard, Melvin Martin, a 5-10 sophomore guard, and freshmen Uros Stankovic, a 6-3 guard from Serbia, and Quincy Minor Jr., a 6-0 guard from Milwaukee, Wis.
“We have quite a few guys that have potential to get in there, but there’s going to be a learning curve, they have to figure it out,” Jenkins said.
Part of that learning curve will come on offense as Waldorf won’t be as post dominated in their play, will shoot more jump-shots, and be more team-focused, Jenkins said.
“One of the goals this team wanted, the returners wanted after last season, was to be a better passing team,” Waldorf’s coach said. “So I came up with an offense for them that I think will achieve that.”
Of course, Jenkins adds that offense won’t be the team’s primary focus as the points will come from a deep and versatile lineup that could go as many as seven deep in double-digit scorers in any game.
The key will be shutting down opponent’s ability to score.
“We have to be able to sit down and guard and rebound the basketball,” Jenkins said. “That’s kind of always been our M.O., being able to guard and make it tough on teams, and I think that’s going to be true again this year.”
As the Warriors work to refine their game and find their identity, so will many of the other teams in the North Star Athletic Association, as favorites Bellevue and Mayville State return much of their lineup from national-tournament qualifying teams, but the rest of Waldorf’s league foes will be in the same boat as the Warriors.
“We’re all going to be trying to figure out our identities and who were going to be before conference begins,” Jenkins said.
That learning process begins this week for the Warriors.
Waldorf men’s basketball picked to finish seventh in NSAA by fellow coaches After graduating eight seniors from last year’s team, which finished fourth in the NSAA, the Warriors were picked to finish seventh in the preseason coaches poll released this week.
Regular-season champion Bellevue was picked to repeat as league champion, earning seven of eight first-place votes, and NSAA Tournament champion Mayville State was picked to finish second, earning the leagues other first-place vote. Bellevue earned 63 points in the poll and Mayville State received 52 points.
Dakota State was picked to finish third with 45 points, followed by Viterbo in fourth with 35 points, Dickinson State was picked fifth with 29 points, Valley City State was picked sixth with 27 points, the Warriors were picked seventh with 22 points, and Presentation was picked eighth with 17 points.