Mavericks quick to adapt with Shantz at the helm
There are several new faces and a new head coach, but that doesn’t mean the Colorado Mesa men’s basketball team will go through a transition stage.
The Mavericks expect to be a contender in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference again even after losing six players from last year’s team that lost in the RMAC semifinals and finished 18-10 for their fourth consecutive winning season.
In the RMAC preseason poll Mesa is picked to finish fifth this season.
First-year head coach Andy Shantz, who was Jim Heaps’ assistant the past 10 seasons, brought in six junior college transfers this year to fill some holes, most notably in the post with the absence of Colton Burgon, Paul Walter and Chandler Burgon. The six former Mavericks accounted for 43 points per game. Mesa averaged 72.2 points per game.
“We’ve got four junior college transfers that are going to play,” Shantz said. “It’s definitely trying to integrate some of the new guys with the old guys.
“I’ll tell you what, it’s been a pretty smooth transition because of the types of people we have in our program. They are outstanding young men, extremely coachable and great student-athletes. They are tight-knit and close. All our new guys came from extremely successful programs.”
The four transfers came from programs that won 20 or more games last season.
Six-foot-six forward Carlos Perez led Arizona Western to the district finals. Jon Orr (6-6) played every game for the 21-10 Eastern Arizona Gila Monsters. Jerry Duckworth was the shooting guard for Cochise (Ariz.) College (25-5), and Joe Kiely played point guard for Sheridan (Wyo.) College, which made the Region 9 tournament.
“Joe Kiely brings a different dynamic we haven’t had since I’ve been here,” CMU junior Mike Melillo said. “Man-to-man press won’t bother us at all, because he can break it down and get other guys involved.
“Carlos Perez is a very good player on the high post. He has a jump shot we haven’t had from a big man since Michael Bear was here. Jon Orr and Jerry Duckworth can spread the floor and hit open shots.
“This is the most athletic team I’ve been on.”
Melillo is the top returning scorer for the Mavericks with 10.1 points per game last season. He also averaged 5.7 rebounds per game.
“Mike is an extremely talented kid,” Shantz said. “With Mike the previous two years we’ve talked a lot about potential. I think it’s time to get that word out of the conversation when you talk about Mike Melillo. You’re starting to see confidence.”
Melillo has developed from being the first guy off the bench and a supporting role his redshirt freshman year to being a team leader capable of playing several positions on the court.
“I’m really comfortable in the offense and the defense, doing what the coaches ask me to,” Melillo said. “It takes a while to play at this level. Right now, I feel comfortable being what I’m supposed to be. I feel with that comes a leadership role to get my teammates to do that.”
Junior Daniel Estes returns to run the offense at the point. He averaged 4.2 points and two assists per game last season.
“He’s an important, integral part to what we do,” Shantz said. “That point guard is so important because the ball is in his hands the majority of the time.”
Estes will share the point guard duties with Kiely.
Junior Landon Vermeer returns at shooting guard, but he will be challenged by senior Mac Alexander and Duckworth.
“All three of them can shoot the ball extremely well,” Shantz said. “It’s going to come down to how well they’ll execute on the offensive end and how good they can get defensively.”
Duckworth averaged 5.5 points per game for Cochise last season.
Senior guard Clay Kame is a versatile guard capable of playing any of the guard positions.
“He’s a tough kid and plays hard,” Shantz said. “He’s come leaps and bounds from last year. He brings an athleticism and toughness to our team. He can play the point guard, the two, the three. I think it’s going to be a good year for Clay, too.”
Perez and Orr will be counted on in the post, where they will be joined by returning sophomores Ryan Stephan (6-10) and Trevor Van Tassel (6-9).
“When those kids (Chandler and Colton Burgon) graduated, we felt like we had to get some frontline help,” Shantz said. “We feel like we got it with those two kids (Perez and Orr).
“They are smaller, but they have great attributes as well. Both are skilled from the perimeter. They don’t have to be just at the basket. They’re good passers. They’re good all-around basketball players. I think they’ll contribute quite a bit this year.”
Stephan looks to build on his first year of playing experience. He averaged 4.5 points in 9.5 minutes per game.
“When we brought Ryan in, we knew he’d be a good player. He just needed development,” Shantz said.
Redshirt freshmen Kane Gunther (Palisade), Nate Hawley (Montrose) and Jake Ames (Delta) will be on the bench and could get some time playing time this year.
“They have all improved and keep getting better,” Shantz said. “Sometimes that takes time adjusting to the college game. It’s amazing to me how much better they’ve gotten in a year. Right now, I don’t see them in our rotation, but they’re not too far out of it.”
Transfer Taylor Shaffer is a walk-on and could redshirt. Transfer Dalton Noble and freshman Derek Biale will likely redshirt.
With Perez’s and Orr’s athletic and shooting ability, Shantz is considering running more this season.
“I would like to, but we’ll run as much as their decision-making warrants it,” Shantz said. “If they show they can make good decisions in transition, we’ll run as much as we can. That’s something we’ve struggled with, but we have no problem looking at the half-court as well. What kids don’t realize is that has more to do with depth than it does me.”
Shantz will continue to run the motion offense that’s been a staple of the program going back to the Doug Schakel days.
“That’s always a big part of what we do, but anytime we can get an easy basket, we want to take advantage of that,” Shantz said. “I think with our point guards, we can do that. They are fast and can handle (the ball) well. We’ve got shooters that can shoot in transition.”