Third year head coach Ken French has his most experienced and deepest team since ascending to the top spot on the bench. The team has the most talent since the 2003 team that won the AMC Tournament and made an appearance at the NAIA Division II National Tournament, the school’s last.
French discussed the four keys he believes has to occur for the RedStorm to have a successful campaign in 2008-09.
“First and foremost we must stay healthy,” he said. “In addition to staying injury free I think we need to be successful early in the season for our confidence.”
“Thirdly, we have to have guys understand and fill their role within the program,” French added. “We must hate to lose more than we love to win.”
Even with a veteran club that features five seniors, who have played a tremendous amount of minutes, French knows that there are some issues that need to be worked through.
“Consistency,” he said. “We must be consistent with our effort and our mental approach every day, whether it is practice or a game.
“We must give our best effort mentally and physically to all that we do,” French added. “We must push ourselves beyond our comfort zone to get better.”
To what level of success this year’s version of Rio Grande basketball has will hinge primarily on six key returning players from last year.
Senior guard/forward Brandon Ivery has had an outstanding first two seasons in the Rio Red and White and will be counted on to, at least, duplicate, if not surpass, what he has done on the floor in the past two seasons.
“Brandon is very talented and is one of the top players in the league,” French said. “He could have an All-American type year if he is focused and brings a blue collar work ethic to all that he does.”
If Ivery avoids the injury bug he will eclipse the 1,000-point plateau fairly early in the season.
Senior guard Brett Beucler is back. He went over 1,000 career points late last season and will aim to be among the all-time leaders in Rio Grande history with a banner senior campaign. “Brett is a senior who had, probably, the best off-season since being in our program,” French said. “He is solid and has a lot of confidence to start the year.”
Senior guard Aaron Drakeford returns to once again man the point for Rio Grande. “Aaron is not going to be a stat line guy and a lot of what he provides goes unnoticed,” French said. “But he is a senior and has to be solid, night in and night out for us to be successful.”
Senior center Will Norwell also returns to man the post position for the RedStorm. Norwell has been a formidable player down low for Rio Grande, since he arrived on campus as a freshman and copped All-Freshman team honors that season.
“Steady and solid is the best way to describe Will,” French said. “He led the league or was at the top of the league in field goal percentage. He is also in the best shape he has ever been in.”
Norwell, with an injury-free campaign, will also eclipse the 1,000-career point mark this season.
Senior Kory Valentine is the glue and his approach to the game can be infectious and inspiring.
“Tough, hard-nosed and a leader,” French said. “Kory represents everything about our program. He will provide great leadership and be one of the top perimeter defenders.”
Junior P.J. Rase is ready for his second season with Rio Grande. Rase provides a long-distance threat and will also take on a key leadership role as well.
“A junior, but definitely a leader within our program,” French said. “P.J. had a good sophomore year and has committed to getting stronger and working to improve his game.
“He should be one of the better three-point shooters in the AMC,” French added.
Also returning this season for the RedStorm are players who had spot duty a year ago and should see more time on the floor.
Sophomore guard Doug Campbell should see more time this season, after showing flashes last year. Fellow sophomore Drew Copas is another who fits that mold. Copas has the ability to knock down the long-range jumper as well.
Sophomore Jordan Lower is a tremendous athlete, but may be a little slowed, because of his commitment to the Rio Grande soccer team this fall, where he was the back-up to senior goalkeeper Nate Walzer. Lower has tremendous leaping ability and is a high-energy player that can provide a spark off the bench.
The RedStorm are blessed with depth this season, which has been a big problem in Coach French’s first two years. The newcomers provide tremendous depth at all the positions and a few of them should contribute right away.
Bud Teer, a 6-6 forward, has been slowed by a pre-season injury, but the coaching staff is extremely high on him. Freshman Brad Cubbie will be one of those players who gives Rio Grande added depth and athleticism at the guard spots.
Sophomore Wendell Bates has transferred in this season and will be an additional big body to help Norwell, Ivery and Teer in the low post.
Two other freshmen also give Rio Grande depth down low and on the wing in 6-7 center Chris Davis and Floris Chaumat at 6-5.
French has set a very basic goal for the season.
“To have the seniors leave the program on a winning note.”