2013-14 NMU Men’s Basketball Preview: New-look Wildcats undergo overhaul under new head coach Bill Sall

MARQUETTE – Just about everybody has had a chance to press the reset button with the Northern Michigan University men’s basketball program this season.

Because of that, it might turn into a season with few wins, but then again, new head coach Bill Sall is noncomittal on a goal for any specific number of victories.

“Our goal is to get better every day,” Sall said about his players. “We want the focus on how to become better.

“The one thing I have to convince our guys is that we have to play harder and tougher than everyone else we play.

“I want to see them execute what we want on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Every time we go on the floor, I want them to play hard, play smart and play together.

“It’s the starting block of any success we have. Rebuilding is a process and you have to come up with your core group of guys. Maybe that will take a year or two.”

He should know, having brought a moribund program back at GLIAC North Division rival Ferris State. He was head coach of the Bulldogs for 11 years, racking up four division titles and three appearances in the NCAA Division II national tournament, twice getting to the regional finals. Last year, the Bulldogs were 13-9 in league games and qualified for the GLIAC postseason tournament.

NMU, on the other hand, collapsed to 4-18 conference and 5-21 overall marks last season. It marked the third straight last-place finish in the GLIAC North in the three years the team played for former coach Doug Lewis Jr. That and a 23-55 overall record prompted the school to not renew his contract.

The roster has been almost completely overhauled with just three players back from last year – 6-foot junior guard Spencer Huss of Marquette, 6-foot sophomore guard Terry Nash and 6-7 senior forward Michael Smith.

None saw extensive playing time in 2012-13. Nash opened the season as starting point guard, but injuries allowed him to play in just four games, while Huss and Smith each averaged 9 or 10 minutes per game.

The other eight players with remaining eligibility either decided to leave on their own or weren’t considered for retention by Sall and his staff, assistants Bill Hill and Charles Belt.

“We have a good mix,” Sall said about the group he does have this season, which includes a mix of freshman recruits along with four-year and junior college transfers.

Three freshman join Huss as former U.P. high school players – 6-foot guard Wade Schetter is from Carney-Nadeau, 6-1 guard Caleb Harrington from Kingsford and 6-5 forward Brett Branstrom from Mid Peninsula.

Other frosh are 6-9 center Joey Barnes, 6-6 swingman Dorrell Foster and 6-3 guard Marcus Hall.

“We have a couple of (four-year college) transfers in Ethan Blackwell and Brandon Havercamp and a group of junior college transfers,” Sall said.

Blackwell is a 5-7 junior guard who saw limited time over two seasons at Division I Texas Southern, while Havercamp, a 6-8 sophomore front-line player, was in a similar situation at GLIAC member Saginaw Valley State.

The juco transfers include 5-10 junior guard Larry Taylor, 6-5 junior forward Chavis Mattison, 6-5 junior forward Justin Newell and 6-7 forward-center Alex Mustert.

“Considering that we didn’t get the chance to start putting this class together until around June 1, most of our team is guys who didn’t have a whole lot of other options.

“Now they have a tremendous opportunity they may not have had otherwise because of the uniqueness of our situation.”

Considering this overhaul, Sall said his lineup is still in flux and may remain that way for at least a few games into the season.

It starts with an exhibition game at Division I Wisconsin-Green Bay at 2 p.m. today, with the regular season getting off the ground next weekend with games on Friday and Saturday at the Mike Turner Classic to be held at downstate Albion College. NAIA school Mount Vernon (Ohio) Nazarene is the first-game opponent.

Three more nonconference games round out this month’s schedule, including home contests against Grace Bible College on Nov. 18 and Southwest Minnesota State on Nov. 21, both at 7:30 p.m. at the Berry Events Center.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net