Experienced men’s basketball team opens season

| News Editor
Ben Gottesdiener | Student Life

Senior Ben Hoener completes a pass against Buena Vista University in the opening round of the NCAA tournament on Friday night against Buena Vista at the Wash. U. Field House. The Bears came out on top 71-59 to notch their 20th win of the season.

Gone from the roster of the Washington University men’s basketball team are last year’s leading scorer and any connections to the 2009 national championship squad, which had defended a title from the year before.

Also gone is a player that was expected to help fill those leading scorer shoes.

Despite the graduation of Dylan Richter and the transfer of Brayden Teuscher to Wheaton College (Ill.) after his freshman season, the Bears return three of five starters and their entire bench rotation, save for Teuscher.

Junior forward and second-team all-UAA selection Chris Klimek (12.5 points and 5.4 rebounds in 24.0 minutes-per-game) joins junior guards Alan Aboona (6.4 and 3.6 assists in 18.8 minutes-per-game) and Tim Cooney (6.2 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.2 steals in 21.2 minutes-per-game) as the holdover starters. Sophomore Matt Palucki, a 6-foot-6 forward, and senior Robert Burnett, a 6-foot-7 center, will fill out the starting lineup, with senior guard Ben Hoener (54.1 percent on field goals, 36.7 percent on three-pointers and 85.3 percent on free throws) also expected to be a major contributor.

With the majority of players from last year’s University Athletic Association championship team back, Wash. U opens its season ranked No. 21 in the D3hoops.com preseason poll and No. 14 in the DIII News poll. The Bears, who finished 20-7 and advanced to the second round of the postseason tournament last season, head to Chicago this weekend for games against Trinity University on Saturday and Southwestern University on Sunday.

The Bears’ home opener is Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. against Fontbonne University.

Last season, Richter averaged 16.4 points-per-game and lent comic relief to the locker room, but he has moved on to a marketing job in Phoenix with the Harlem Globetrotters. Teuscher showed flashes of go-to scorer potential early in the season and chipped in 7.9 points-per-game in an average of 17.4 minutes off the bench. The Bears also lost burly starting center Alex Toth, the team’s third-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder.

“Losing Richter was a lot of statistics—same with Alex Toth…those two guys were the last remnants of players that played on the national championship team and had a lot of experience in their four years that they were here, so that’s tough to replace,” said head coach Mark Edwards, who is entering his 32nd season.

Though those players’ production will be missed, Edwards thinks returning players can pick up the slack. The Bears run an offense predicated on ball movement and creating open looks for every player.

“When we won the national championship in 2009, in the semifinal game, our two-guard, Aaron Thompson, scored 30 points [and made eight three-pointers],” Edwards said. “The next night, he didn’t get a single three because that’s what they shut down, and we won by quite a bit. We’re set up to be able…if a team takes away one aspect, there’s other aspects to be able to draw up, which means we should be able to play against a variety of different teams.”

A more balanced attack could also be an advantage for this year’s squad.

“Having [Richter] as the main scorer was great, but when [he] was off, the team was off,” Klimek said. “And this year we’ve already seen in our scrimmage [against Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology], a few players played really bad and a few played really well, and we still won pretty forcefully.”

The Bears may emphasize the inside game more with Klimek, who operates close to the basket. But there will remain plenty of opportunities from the perimeter, with Hoener, Cooney and Aboona putting in extra work on their jump shots in the offseason.

“I’d say it’s our primary look, to get it inside,” Aboona said. “But if teams are going to collapse on us and try to play us packed-in, then we can always shoot over the top, and we have the shooters to do that.”

Cooney is the team’s primary defensive stopper, and the Bears have size in the frontcourt with Burnett, Palucki, the 6-foot-5 Klimek and 6-foot-5 sophomore Nick Burt.

The Bears have seven freshmen on the 23-man roster, although Edwards does not expect any of them to crack the rotation quite yet. Edwards said the team’s experience should help make it a smooth transition into the new season.

“I think our execution is better defensively and offensively,” he said. “That goes back to not that we have better players than last year—that goes back to we have older players than we had last year.”

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