Mesa men’s hoops team short on size, but has plenty of good shooters
One big man.
A couple of forwards.
Lots of guards.
It’s going to be a different Mesa State College men’s basketball team this season than the fans are used to seeing.
It’s a different team than Jim Heaps is used to coaching, too.
The Mavericks will still run motion offense and will still rely on tough man-to-man defense, and they still want to establish the inside game.
How they do that, though, will be the trick.
In an exhibition game last week against Utah Valley University, Heaps started four guards and one post player.
“You know me, I’m always trying to figure out starters and subs and trying to figure out the best lineup with defense, offense, that whole deal,” Heaps said. “We’re probably going to be experimenting for awhile.”
The experiment begins for real Saturday at the University of Southern Utah. It might be a more traditional lineup with three guards, one forward and a center, but don’t be surprised if 6-foot-8 center Kurt Bangle is surrounded by guards during the season.
They’re guards who are very good shooters, play together and are unselfish, just the type of players Heaps likes.
“I think we’ll be back to where we have a lot of guys between eight and 13 points a game,” he said.
“Those are the ones we’ve had our most success with. It’s how we like basketball to be played. It’s a team game, everybody can hurt you. If they’re really unselfish and play together like this team does, I think it’s very difficult to defend.”
The vertically-challenged lineup wasn’t by design. In fact, Heaps was feeling pretty good about his projected lineup until the first day of school.
That’s when Justin Ashbaugh, last season’s leading scorer and rebounder, tore knee ligaments during a pickup game and was lost for the season.
“It was pretty obvious Justin was going to be the starter at the (forward). It inserted everybody into a nice little lineup,” Heaps said. “When he went out, we weren’t sure who we wanted to play where.”
The lineup might not be set in stone, but Heaps has figured out his top 10:
Point guard: Aaron Markham (6-0 junior) and Ryan Mortensen (5-10 junior) will share time running the offense. Markham started all 27 games last season, scoring 3.2 points a game, and had better than a 2-to-1 assists-to-turnovers ratio. Mortensen scored 3.6 points a game, appearing in all 27 games,
“Last week we talked to them and I told them, ‘I can’t differentiate between the two of you.’ One day one will be better, one day the other. They both play hard, a little bit different in styles,” Heaps said. “Ryan’s more of a scorer, Aaron is more of a defensive threat. Both do a good job with the ball. I told them we might alternate who starts game to game.”
2-guard: Ryan Mathews (6-1 senior) will likely start, with Andre Carter (6-1 senior) seeing plenty of time. Mathews scored 12.6 points a game last season as the Mavs’ sixth man and Carter added 3.5 points a game.
“Ryan is really playing well and Andre has had a great preseason,” Heaps said.
3-guard: Jase Herl (6-3 junior), a transfer from Dodge City (Kan.) Community College, is “a forward trapped in a guard’s body,” Heaps said. Brian Kenshalo (6-3 redshirt freshman) is a young player who
Heaps thinks has the ability to contribute.
The Mavs got a scare Tuesday when Herl got his right thumb bent backwards in practice. X-rays showed no fracture, just a bad bruise, and he was back on the floor Thursday.
“Jase might be the key to our team simply because he just brings a real toughness, a physical presence,” Heaps said. “He does everything pretty well. He makes his teammates better. He can score, he rebounds, he defends, he runs and he’s smart.”
Forward: This was Ashbaugh’s spot, and now it belongs to Sean Flohr (6-5 junior) and Ben Crowe (6-5 junior). Crowe got a few minutes of playing time last season and Flohr averaged 13 minutes, scoring 4.6 points a game.
“Sean and Ben are both playing well,” Heaps said. “Sean is a kid who’s really hung in there. He’s playing much better defense. He rebounds and runs the floor and he could always shoot it.”
Post: Bangle is the only true big man with experience on the roster. Jake Swartzendruber (6-5 senior) will spell Bangle inside.
Bangle came into his own last season, averaging 13 points and 4.9 rebounds a game.
“Kurt’s got to come focused to play and when he does that, I wouldn’t trade him for anybody in the RMAC,” Heaps said. “We’ve had players in the past who could eat two chili cheesedogs while watching a movie in the locker room and come out and score 20 and get 10 (rebounds).
“Kurt can’t do that. He’s got to be focused and walk on the court ready. That’s what he’s striving for, 40 minutes of consistent play night in and night out. That’s the next step for him and he’s very capable of that.”
Swartzendruber, who gives up several inches in the post, averaged 8.7 points and 3.6 rebounds a game last season.
“Jake can play the 4 (forward), but then that puts us real thin at the 5 until Mike Bear (6-7 redshirt freshman) gets some experience and can play some major minutes,” Heaps said. “Jake is the only other player who gives us legitimately an inside presence. He’s not very big, but he can battle in there. I talked to Jake and told him he’s a starter but he doesn’t get introduced. He’ll get a lot of minutes off the bench.”