UWSP men’s basketball team will have new look next season
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
With possibly all five starters gone, the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UWSP) men’s basketball team will have a different look for the 2019-20 season.
The Pointers will lose seven seniors from this season’s team that finished 18-9 overall and missed the NCAA Division III Tournament, while two-time First Team All-Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) guard Ethan Bublitz could receive another year of eligibility due to medical hardship, but has yet to make a decision about retuning for a fifth year.
“We had hoped to be playing late into the season and making a deep run, and that really allowing us to create some momentum with recruiting and landing some kids,” said UWSP men’s basketball head coach Bob Semling. “We’re in a really good place with a number of top recruits in our state, where it’s down to us and somebody else.
“So we’re going to turn our attention 100 percent here to recruiting over the next six to eight weeks, and land the strongest class we can,” he said. “And we are definitely going to pursue some transfers.”
UWSP will lose four starters from the last two seasons in 2018-19 First Team All-WIAC senior guard Nate Dodge (team-high 15.7 points per game this season), Honorable Mention All-WIAC senior forward Canon O’Heron (12.1 points, 4.9 rebounds), Honorable Mention All-WIAC senior guard Drew Fredrickson (10.0 points, 2.7 assists) and two-time All-WIAC Defensive Team forward/center senior Brett Tauber (5.4 points, 4.2 rebounds).
Also gone will be a trio of reserves in guard/forward Mark Nelson, guard Koko Songolo and guard Chaz Mootz, from UWSP’s senior class that helped the team reach the Sweet 16 of the 2018 NCAA Division III Tournament.
Bublitz (12.5 points, team-high 5.0 rebounds this season) returned for his fourth year this season after he missed all but one game in 2017-18 due to an ankle injury that required surgery, while he graduates in December and hasn’t made a decision yet about playing next season as a redshirt senior.
“That’s going to be a decision that Ethan has to make with his family, based on his ankle, and it’s not only a basketball decision and an academic decision, but it also is looking long-term, his ability to have use of that ankle, that he doesn’t do any further damage to it,” said Semling. “But because Ethan came in with this (senior) class, we wanted to make him a part of this class and do all of those things, and I know a lot of people have speculated, ‘he’s done Senior Day, so he’s probably not going to be back,’ but we’ve done that stuff before.
“I don’t anticipate that decision will be final, and even if we do make a decision, that could change,” he said. “He could make the decision that he’s not going to play and then come back and decide in September he wants to play. He could decide, ‘I want to play and make that announcement,’ and then come back in the fall and say, ‘I just don’t’ think it’s in my best interests, health-wise.’ I don’t think we’ll really know until October 15, or maybe even until November, when it’s the first game.”
Among the expected returnees, 6-4 junior forward Blake Ehrke (3.2 points, 3.3 rebounds) and 6-6 junior forward Brandon Spray (2.4 points) saw limited action off the bench in the first half of this season before they emerged down the stretch, as Ehrke averaged 9.4 points and 6.4 rebounds in the final five games of the season and Spray averaged 7.4 points and 3.5 rebounds over the last six games.
Junior 6-8 junior forward/center Matt Koerner (2.5 points, 42.4 percent on three-pointers) was the first big off the bench the last two years before he got mono in mid-December and battled his way back, while 6-0 junior point guard Aaron Knez (2.4 points) saw increased playing time late in the season.
“Matt was very good for us last year as a reserve off the bench, and he ran into some obstacles this year, but both Brandon and Blake came on at the end of the season, so we’re going to rely heavily on that junior class,” said Semling. “Aaron has gotten minutes, he hasn’t really established himself yet, but that’s Aaron’s challenge.
“We’ve seen it before with seniors who have played sporadically for three years, but then they knew that all of their teammates and this program was counting on them to have a great senior year, and we’ve had guys do that, come through and have a great senior year,” he said. “So that’s a great place to start, with those four guys.”
Sophomore 5-11 point guard Garrett Nelson (2.6 points) has been part of the team’s rotation the last two seasons, while 6-0 sophomore guard Brady Wagner, 6-6 freshman forward Peter Timmerman and 6-2 freshman guard Zach Mootz have seen limited playing time off the bench as underclassmen.
“Garrett was our first reserve off the bench last year, and he probably didn’t have quite as good of a year as he did his freshman year,” said Semling. “But it’s tested his resolve and he knows how hard it is to play at this level, and I think he’ll have a much better off-season.
“And then Zach and Peter have grown a lot, and both of those guys need to have a great off-season and come in ready to impact our team next year, along with the newcomers,” he said. “We’ll have eight returning guys, and we expect to bring in at least six to seven newcomers.”
Wrightstown High School 6-4 senior guard Mayson Hazaert (24.8 points, 7.7 rebounds per game this season) announced on Twitter Jan. 28 that he will play basketball as a freshman at UWSP next season, while Semling and assistant coaches Matt Hockett, Kevin Hurd and Matt Resch have been busy recruiting high school players throughout the state this season, with the opportunity to come in and contribute right away in the fall as freshmen.
The Pointers have also landed several impact transfers from NCAA Division II schools through the years, including All-American guard Trevor Hass, Stephen Pelkofer Dan Tillema and MJ Delmore; as well as Division 1 transfers in Dodge, Kyle Grusczynski, and Clayton Heuer, and that is another avenue that will be explored.
“The high school guys know that we’ve built this program around a group of guys that we bring in, and we’re looking for four or five high school guys who fit the profile of a UWSP player, and they want to be a part of something that’s bigger than them,” said Semling. “They want to come in and they want to make their mark on a program that has high expectations of winning and the best fan support, and play the toughest schedule in the country and play in the best league.
“We want guys who don’t want to just be a part of it, but they actually want to put their stamp on it, like, ‘we came in and we sustained this,’ or ‘we took it to another level and we did all of the same things that other teams did before us,’” he said. “And we want to do it mostly with high school guys, because that’s what we’ve always done here, but if there are a few high school guys who we recruited heavily their junior and senior year and they’re out playing at the Division II or Division 1 level, we definitely want to track those guys if any of them are going to come back to our state.”
Semling said the program isn’t going to change its goals for next season and its strength of schedule will be just as high, as the Pointers will again look to contend for the WIAC Title and a trip to the NCAA Division III Tournament.
“We definitely have been here before, where we’ve graduated some really significant pieces in our program, and people thought, ‘boy, it’s going to be hard for them to sustain success,’ and sometimes we’ve had our best years,” said Semling. “You don’t have to go back that far to 2015, and graduating Tyler Tillema and Clayton Heuer and Trevor Hass, three two-time All-Conference players in our league, who led us to one of our best back-to-back records we’ve had in a two-year period.
“That next year we started out 3-2 with that crew, they were all kind of like this year’s group, they were role players, but we went on to win a National Title,” he said. “So anything is possible, and we have good young men in our program who I think will be challenged and will be hungry because of the fact that we underachieved this year, and I think that will drive them to want to make sure that doesn’t happen again, that next year we overachieve.”