Four players from the 2010-11 Central Michigan men’s basketball team will return for the Chippewas on the hardwood this winter.
Only three of those players played more than five minutes a game – and had a combined 11 starts in Mid-American Conference play last season. With nine new players on the roster, a new coach and schemes, an offseason trip to the Bahamas gave them a chance to gel.
“I don’t know what kind of success we’re going to have this year,” said first-year head coach Keno Davis. “But I know we’ll play a lot better and we’re further along, because of those 10 days of practice and three games down there.”
The NCAA grants men’s basketball programs to take an overseas trip once every four years. CMU was sponsored to go to the Bahamas for four days and play three games against semi-pro teams. Teams going on a trip are also able to have 10 summer practices before to prepare.
“Anytime you get more practices it helps, especially when it’s all new guys and a new coach; it helped us out a lot,” sophomore Austin Keel said. “It was a lot of fun, and great to play against someone other than ourselves.”
The Chippewas won all three games while scoring over 100 points. Keel had 59 points over the final two games. Davis said he was happy to see Keel do more than shoot, but get to the basket and score in other ways.
“That was exciting for me,” Davis said. “When we played with the international three-point line (nearly over a foot deeper than college line), he proved that not only can he shoot from outside, he can do so with deeper range. It might have opened peoples’ eyes that he was able to get to the basket, as well as be a shooter.”
Olivier Mbaigoto was unable to make the trip because of visa issues. Davis said Mbaigoto has been one of the best performers in practice though.
For several players, it was their first time playing for CMU, including two point guards that impressed Davis. University of North Carolina Greensboro transfer senior Kyle Randall and freshman from Detroit Country Day Chris Fowler stood out, in Davis’ eyes.
“We came in April as a staff with no point guard, and we ended up with three,” he said. “Those two distanced themselves, being ready to play right away.”
Davis said the biggest question with the team is a newcomer who will step up once the season starts. He rattled off several new faces that have the chance to do that. Freshmen forwards Blake Hibbitts and John Simons, and freshmen guards Derrick Richardson Jr. and Austin Stewart are all guys Davis said could step up.
Davis said he doesn’t have a rotation set up, or know his starters but he is learning about his team.
“They can shoot the basketball,” he said proudly. “We can really shoot it. We’re going to be very tough to defend. The question is, how quickly can we rebound, how quickly can we defend, how quickly can we learn, because we will be a young team.”
For Keel and the rest the players still getting to know each other, the Bahamas gave them time to hang out, bond and snorkel.
“We all stayed in a big group the whole time,” Keel said. “Anytime we wanted to go to the water park or casino, we all went. Everyone definitely bonded together.”
Davis said that chemistry is important.
“When you look at teams that make those offseason trips, they are able to do better than expected,” he said.