Leadership abundant in coming season

Photo by Chris Woods

Photo by Chris Woods

Jordan Jacobo

Sports editor

Despite an unblemished record at home, the men’s basketball team was on the outside looking in last year when the regular season ended and the postseason rolled around.

In a four-way tie for third place in the Northwest Conference, the ’Cats were just one win short of a playoff berth.

But falling short has only fueled the fire, as the team begins the preseason Nov. 24 at home against Northwest Christian College at 7:30 p.m.

In many ways, this season offers a chance of redemption for Linfield. After graduating forward Brian Murphy and guard Steve Taylor, the team is fine-tuning its roster while many others in the conference are redefining theirs.

The West Region Rookie of the Year from last season, sophomore center K.C. Wiser, will be taking on a lion’s share of the responsibility of getting this team to the playoffs. Wiser was a workhorse as a freshman, leading the team in rebounds, points per game and minutes played.

“He’s one of the premier big men in the conference,” head coach Larry Doty said. “The challenge for K.C. is everyone now knows about him, and that’s going to make his job more difficult. But he’s bigger, stronger and quicker [this year].”

Doty said the strength of the team lies in its depth. Any of its top 10 players, whether in the starting
lineup or coming off the bench, can make an impact at any point in the game, he said.

The NWC competition is highly competitive this year, and the ’Cats will likely need all of the depth and energy they can muster.

The University of Puget Sound was picked in the preseason NWC coaches poll to unseat two-time defending champion Whitworth University. UPS seniors forward Jason Foster and guard Antwan Williams have both earned  national attention.

With senior point guard Ross Nakamura leading a dynamic offense, Whitworth will be as strong as ever. Pirates head coach Jim Hayford has proved himself a master of replacing the key cogs of his team without so much as a sputter.

Whitman College, armed with a new head coach, will vie for a playoff spot. Senior guard Chris Faidley, who averaged a league-high 22.4 points per game, will have even more opportunities to score.

Linfield showed it could take care of business on its home court last year, posting an 11-0 record. But on the road, a record of 2-9 was the underlying reason that the ’Cats did not make the playoffs.

Doty said the team’s co-captains, seniors forward Erik Olson, point guard Jon Weber and Wiser are all capable leaders in different respects. Whether they motivate the team with actions or with words, on the court or off it, leadership is not something the team takes lightly, Doty said.

Junior guard Cody Tesoro, who was a utility player and sparkplug off the bench last year, said the team’s major focus needs to be on improving its defense.

“We’re not going to have any problems putting the ball in the net,” he said. “It’s going to have to be us getting stops on the other end. That’s what plagued us last year.”

This defensive mindset, Tesoro said, could be the difference between wins and devastating late-game losses.

After losing several games by a margin of fewer than three points last year, and missing the playoffs because of a complicated tiebreaking system, the importance of stopping opponents at the end of games has only been underscored.

Facing a daunting preseason lineup that includes both Western Oregon and
Portland State universities, Tesoro said all the kinks on both ends of the court should be worked out well before the regular season begins.

“It’s basically going to be a matter of getting it done on the road,” he said.

If it’s any indication of the magnitude behind Wiser’s performance this season, Doty said Wiser’s teammates have bestowed upon him the nickname “The Franchise.”

Wiser will be a threat wherever he is on the court. He can defend and rebound, not to mention pass the ball with skill uncommon for a center, Doty said. Wiser is comfortable with his back to the basket or out in the
open court.

“K.C. is the vocal leader,” Doty said. “He is the guy players look up to. He’s really done a good job of increasing his  responsibility as a
lead
er.”

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