Transition and improvement: These are the key words on the mind of Wheaton men’s head basketball coach Mike Schauer for the 2014-15 season.
“I think that there are always a couple of ways to look at change or transition,” Schauer said. “There are obviously obstacles that are immediately evident any time there is change because there are new people and different combinations. Those things can be obstacles, but I think they can also be opportunities.”
All-American guard Tyler Peters is gone, playing professionally in Sweden. Last year’s leading rebounder Nate Haynes has also graduated. Those two were a vital part of the Thunder team that won the CCIW and made it to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA tournament a year ago. While several key contributors from that team return this year, the great playing from Peters and Haynes will have to come from somewhere.
Three starters return to the Thunder, and the one with the best chance of taking on much of Peters’ scoring load is senior guard Brayden Teuscher. Teuscher was All-CCIW second team a year ago as Wheaton’s second leading scorer and top three-point shooter, averaging 14.8 points per game and scoring at least 20 in five games.
“He is the prime example of a guy that is more comfortable in the alpha male role and will ascend to that,” Schauer said. “I think that to be a good team you have to have a go-to guy that you can just put the ball in his hands and he can make a play — and Brayden is that guy.”
After Teuscher, there are a lot of question marks on the offensive end. Senior forward Peter Smith and senior guard Caleb DeMoss are returning starters and junior forward Michael Berg was a key contributor off the bench in 2013-14, but none of them are proven as consistent scorers. DeMoss was the Thunder’s starting point guard for the second half of last season and proved he belonged with 7.5 points and 2.1 assists per game.
“(DeMoss) plays with tremendous pace at both ends of the floor, and I think he is ready to go for it this year,” Schauer said. “In many ways he saved our season last year, the way he played in the second half of the season. I think that gave people a glimpse into why I think we can be pretty good.”
Peter Smith started every game last year, serving mostly as a perimeter shooter and solid defender. He averaged 7.4 points and four rebounds while playing 30-plus minutes every single night. Schauer is looking to see if Smith makes the jump from role player to star in his senior season.
“(Smith) is somebody that has put together identical numbers in his sophomore and junior seasons, so the question is: Can he make the jump in his production this year? I have to help Petey find offense and he has to be a little bit more assertive offensively,” Schauer said.
Michael Berg has the most potential to fill the role of number-two guy as a junior. Berg got plenty of minutes off the bench in his junior season, recording 5.4 points and 3.9 rebounds. He has the versatility to score inside and out and the athleticism to guard multiple positions.
“(Berg) is much more comfortable in a role that he knows he can take 10 or 12 shots a game,” Schauer said. “He is the guy that has probably made the biggest jump in terms of his comfort level and confidence.”
According to Schauer, the player who has displayed the most improvement is junior Luis Miller. Miller has gotten mostly garbage time minutes in his first two seasons, but his defensive presence has impressed his coach in the preseason.
“(Miller) spent two years guarding Tyler Peters in practice so he looks like a defensive All-American since he is not guarding Tyler anymore,” Schauer said. “The real question for Lou is can he find enough offense to maintain playing time.”
Junior Joel Smith played in 27 games last season, but he has been sidelined with an injury in the early part of the year. Smith’s role in 2013-14 was mostly providing quick offense in limited minutes.
The freshman class is the largest recruiting class during Schauer’s tenure, and there are several freshmen who Schauer believes can contribute immediately. The guy at the top of that list is Murad Dillard.
“He is very versatile at 6’4” and almost 6’5”,” Schauer says. “He can do anything from play the point to defend the post. Murad has a very bright future because he does a lot of good things.”
Another player he mentioned is Chase Holliday, a physically gifted guard out of Canoga Park, California. Despite it being in his first year of collegiate basketball, Holliday certainly looks the part at 6’3” and 190 pounds.
“Unlike most freshmen, he is physically ready to play the game right away,” Schauer said.z
With so much unproven talent, it will be difficult to gauge exactly what the players are capable of until the season gets under way. The opening tipoff of the 2014-15 campaign is Saturday in King Arena at 7 p.m. against Franklin College.