BEMIDJI – After one of the best seasons in program history, the Bemidji State basketball team will find out what life is like without Matt Bowen and James Ellisor this weekend.
The Beavers open the season with games against Colorado-Colorado Springs and Metro State in the NSIC/RMAC Challenge at Winona State today and Saturday. Tipoff is at 5 p.m. both nights.
Many will be curious to see how BSU fares without former head coach (Bowen) and last season’s Division II National Player of the Year (Ellisor). BSU also lost its all-time assists leader in Bryce Tesdahl.
New head coach Mike Boschee said he’s also curious to see how the players are congealing under a new, fast-paced system he’s implemented.
“I think everybody’s anxious to start playing,” Boschee said. “But I’m especially anxious. I’d like to see where we’re at. I think it’s hard to see where we’re at right now since we haven’t played anybody. We’re looking forward to it.”
The Beavers have been preparing for the change – new coach, new system, some new players – since the summer, but now they’re eager to move on and prove that last year’s season wasn’t any sort of fluke.
“We’ve got to come together and try to replace them as a team,” junior forward Maxie Rosenbloom said. “Everybody’s going to have to do a little bit more and pitch in a little bit more. I mean, those two (Ellisor and Tesdahl) are irreplaceable, but we’ll make do.”
What the Beavers lose in Ellisor and Tesdahl will doubtlessly be tough to replace. Ellisor averaged 21.9 points per game and Tesdahl was the NSIC’s assists leader with 183.
But the returning cast is pretty good, too.
Senior guard Dermaine Crockrell was named BSU’s “Player to Watch” by NSIC coaches in the preseason. He averaged 12.2 points and 4.5 rebounds per game last season and both he and Boschee expect him to have a larger role this year.
“Not having James is a big loss,” Crockrell said. “He gave us 20 points a night. That’s a big change for us, so a lot of guys are going to have to step up. But we have a lot of experience, a lot of veterans. I think that’s going to help us out a lot, having those guys back. It’s going to be to our advantage. Everybody knows their roles.”
BSU also returns 6-foot-7 forward Mason Walters and 6-3 guard/forward Lance Rongstad, who both played lots of minutes in the past; while players like Rosenbloom, James Edwards and Jake Schalow maybe didn’t see lots of playing time before but will be counted on as experienced upperclassmen.
“Different people are going to have to do a lot more scoring,” Boschee said. “You had a guy that had a third of the points last year, which is obviously a lot. So you have to replace a lot of those points.
“Everybody’s going to have to step up. I don’t think we’ll have anybody averaging 24 points a game, but it would be really nice if we had a bunch of guys in double figures and make it more of a team package.”
Last season Crockrell was the only Beaver in double figures aside from Ellisor, but Rongstad was just under (9.9 ppg) and Walters scored 8.3 ppg.
New system catching on
The Beavers have also been learning the ins-and-outs of Boschee’s offensive and defensive philosophies.
They’ll run a more fast-paced, high-octane system this season. It took some getting used to, but most of the Beavers say it’s better suited to their team.
“You know, we have a lot of athletes who can get up and down the court already, so I think it kind of fits well with the personality of the team we already had,” Walters said. “Obviously it took a little getting used to at first, just with a new system, a new terminology, but we’re getting used to new leadership. Over time I think it’s getting easier.”
Boschee said he also plans to play more aggressive on defense and put more pressure on the ball.
The learning curve hasn’t been steep, but like any new system, it takes time.
“At first it was a little rough like regime changes usually are,” Rosenbloom said. “But we adjusted to it and were able to sort of embrace the challenge. I think that really helped with the development of everybody. We’re excited to come in every day and learn something new.”
BSU has four nonconference games to test it out – this weekend in the NSIC/RMAC Challenge and next week at Michigan Tech and Finlandia in Michigan – before the defense of its NSIC title begins Dec. 1.