By Cassidy Thornburg
The words “Thunder Struck” decorated orange t-shirts worn by fans in the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum last March 15. During Wheaton College’s spring break, rows of fans still managed to make it out to the “Summit City” to support the Wheaton Men’s Basketball team in the final four round of the NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball Tournament — their first visit since the 1950’s. To get them to the final four, senior guard Aston Francis broke two records. He scored a season-high 62 points to break the Division III Tournament single game scoring record. Then, he scored a total of 1,052 points, to reach another benchmark — the Division III single season scoring record. In the end, the Thunder lost in the semi-final round to the tournament champions, UW-Oshkosh.
As the Thunder turn the page and enter a new season, they are doing so without some key players, including Francis — the 2019 winner of the Jostens Trophy and the Bevo Francis Award. But Head Coach Mike Schauer is adapting his game plan to match his roster.
Losing six senior athletes will cause any coach to step back and question his team’s potential. In doing so, Coach Schauer has so far been pleasantly surprised in the development of his young players. In May, they took a 10-day sports ministry trip to Zimbabwe through an organization called Sports Ambassadors which helped them grow closer as a team.
“I’ve been pretty pleased with the way that we’ve played,” Schauer said. “Our trip really helped us. To see our team develop a personality and a characteristic that doesn’t include Aston was really helpful. We’ve had two scrimmages so far, and played really well in them, so I’m cautiously optimistic. We’re really young and really inexperienced, so there are going to be some growing pains in there, but we have a lot of guys who are excited to find their footing and get their opportunity with the basketball.”
New look, new lineup
“There is nobody on the team this year who is returning to the same role they were in last year. Everybody has a bigger role,” Schauer said.
Schauer expects several players to step up this season, including junior guard Nyameye Adom.
“Nyameye spent the entire season without the ball, because Aston and Luke Peters had it all the time,” he said. “But now that the ball has been in his hands, in our practices in Zimbabwe, he’s been a really dynamic scorer and he shares the ball, so he’s going to be a real focal point of what we are trying to do.”
Then there’s senior forward Anajuwon Spencer, hard to miss at 6’8”. “He is kind of our Swiss Army knife, he really doesn’t have any weaknesses,” Schauer said. “He does a little bit of everything really well, but we are going to need him to step up and look for his offense a little more. He is just such a cerebral player.”
Another guard to throw in the mix is sophomore Tyson Cruickshank, who may have found his spot this season. “Tyson has played really well,” Schauer said.
“Those are guys who got playing time last year, who got opportunities to play, but who are going to play a much greater role,” Schauer said. Commenting on the 10 new freshmen on the team, he added, “The thing that excites me about this group is that we have quite a bit of talent in the gym. The broad health of the program is very high. We have a lot of young players that are really good.”
“I just want to see us get to our ability every night”
“I’m going to give you some coach speak — the biggest thing as a coach is you want your team to play to its ability, whatever its ability is,” Coach Shauer said. “To worry about wins and losses and how many games you are going to win or how you match up with certain teams is fools gold, but I just want to see us get to our ability every night.”
“I think I knew this might be true, but we are actually a little better than I thought we would be, so I’m encouraged by it.”