Keno Davis had doubters last season.
People who knew basketball very well looked at his team and saw no one taller than 6-foot-8, no one weighing more than 230 pounds, no one with significant experience and talent at the Division 1 level.
“They wanted to know if we could win 2 or 3 games,” Davis said Wednesday during Central Michigan’s media day. “And one thing that we did (show) was show that we could win with the players that are in this program.”
The Chippewas finished the season 12-18, proving competitive toward the end, winning two of their last three regular-season games. Size continued to be an issue, particularly for freshmen forwards John Simons and Blake Hibbits. Simons stood 6-feet-8 but only weighed in at 208 pounds. Hibbits, 6-feet-7, even lighter, at 203 pounds.
Simons said the two made it a point of emphasis to put on weight in the offseason. He stayed in Mount Pleasant over the summer, working with assistant director of strength and conditioning Taylor Larson to put on 19 pounds. Hibbits has since added 23.
“We knew we were undersized against almost every team we played against, so we knew we had to put on some size in the spring,” said Simons, who started all 30 games last season. “That was a huge thing for us. Now we want to be out there and compete with the guys we go against.”
Combined with sixth-year senior Zach Saylor (listed at 6-foot-8 and 235 pounds) and freshman Milos Cabarkpa (7 feet, 233 pounds), who added 30 pounds himself, the CMU front court is expected to be more physical this season.
Simons, who averaged 7.4 points and five rebounds per game, said the added size will let him mix it up offensively, popping out to the perimeter to shoot jumpers — he shot at a 43 percent clip last season, including 32 percent from 3-point distance — and posting up on the blocks. On defense, he’ll be able to match up better opponents’ 4s and 5s.
Sophomore point guard Chris Fowler has seen firsthand what the added size and strength has done for the offense.
“They have great screens now that they’ve added strength,” Fowler said. “It gives me more opportunities to pass the ball to them. It’s been great for us because we know they can finish around the basket and they’re great outside shooters.”
For Davis, he hopes the added size and strength results in more wins.
“For them to come back stronger and more physical, it gives us a chance to be better,” he said. “We’re still going to be among the smaller teams, but hopefully we’re among the quicker this year.”
Contact Aaron McMann: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @AaronMcMann.