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Heightened expectations: TMC men's basketball preview

With front-court additions, the Mustangs plan to make some noise in conference play

Posted: November 11, 2009 9:59 p.m.
Updated: November 12, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Mustangs' Nathaniel Borunda faces up to the basket at practice Wednesday in Bross Gym.

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Basketball isn’t usually considered a game of inches, but it has been for The Master’s College men’s team.

Specifically, the inches the Mustangs haven’t had in the front court.

“I think our biggest shortcoming last year was we weren’t a good rebounding team and we weren’t able to get the shooting percentages low (for other teams),” said TMC head coach Chuck Martin, “We’ve really struggled in the post.”

Martin hit the recruiting trail hard — looking as far away as Alaska — to improve on last year’s record of 16-15 overall and 8-12 in the Golden State Athletic Conference.

The result: a solid returning nucleus combined with several frontcourt additions that could change the program’s reputation from an undersized, shoot-first offense to a force in the conference.

Everett Bryson and Richard LaFleur are the biggest catalysts for change — literally.

Both 6 feet 7 inches tall and around 215 pounds, the pair represent a back-to-the-basket presence the Mustangs haven’t normally had during Martin’s three-year tenure.

“We should be able to get to the free-throw line, because we feel like we can get it into our post players and have them get some points,” Martin said.

Bryson is currently practicing with the team but won’t become eligible to play in a game until Jan. 5 against Concordia.

While the team is a bit thin at the moment because of eligibility issues, this year’s group can already notice a difference in the post.

“It’s opened up a whole dimension for our guards, other teams will have to play us honestly. It just feels more natural,” said senior shooting guard Roy Walker. “Last year, a lot of the time our guard play would diminish (near the end of games) because they were tired, and our guards had to carry a lot of the load. It takes a lot of the pressure off.”

Walker will contribute key backcourt minutes as the team awaits the eligibility of Dean Hadley. Hadley is the team’s top returning scorer who averaged 14.7 points per game last year.

Martin said a decision by the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics on Hadley’s eligibility could be made next week, but the team is preparing for the worst-case scenario, which means Hadley would miss the team’s first two conference games with Everett.

“You don’t lose a player like that and have it not affect you,” Martin said of Hadley, a 6-foot-6-inch guard-forward transfer from the University of San Francisco before last year.

Joining Walker in the starting backcourt is Joey Fuca, who along with Hadley is back with a year of starting experience under his belt.

Fuca leads the team from the point-guard spot and will help replace the scoring of Ryan Zamroz.

Zamroz graduated last year as the program’s eighth all-time leading scorer and averaged almost 19 points a game.

Fuca says he spent a lot of time over the summer working on his midrange game and developing his pull-up jumper, which would be key additions to the arsenal if the Mustangs hope to capitalize on their newfound post strength.

“Our offense this year is a little more focused on our post presence and getting them touches. ... It’s going to really open up the defenses we play,” Fuca said, adding it gives this year’s team an inside-outside balance.

Freshman Leif Karlberg, a 6-foot-4-inch recruit from Grace Christian High School in Alaska who was named Class 3A Player of the Year, has already made an impression on his teammates with his long-range accuracy.

“He might be the best shooter in the GSAC already,” Walker said. “You can print that.”

Raphael Harris returns from a year off for family reasons to give the team a rangy 6-foot-7-inch post player that likes to face the basket.

Harris is more of a nontraditional power forward who can also guard small forwards and score from beyond 15 feet.

Martin said he knows it will be an uphill climb in the GSAC, as six of its 11 team are in the NAIA top 25, and Fresno Pacific and Concordia, are in the top 10.

But the goals remain the same.

“We’ve been trying to get this program in the top half of the league. And we’re not here to just get into the league tournament, we’re here for the (NAIA) tournament,” Martin said. “You can be real good and still finish in the bottom half of the league, but you’ve got to get into the top half.”

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