New era dawns for men’s basketball team
|Bryan Wholey ’08 is Bates’ leading returning scorer and rebounder, at 12.7 points and 4.2 rebounds per game.|
LEWISTON, Maine — When the Bates College men’s basketball team takes the floor this Friday against St. Lawrence University in a tipoff tournament at Babson College, head coach Joe Reilly will be fielding his youngest team in this, his 11th season at the helm.
What’s more, due to Thanksgiving arriving early on this year’s calendar, the Bobcats will have seen the least practice time of any of his previous teams.
What’s even more, Reilly estimates that the field at the Babson tournament is the toughest the Bobcats have faced to open the season. St. Lawrence was 23-6 last season and earned a berth in the NCAA Championship. Of the Bobcats’ two possible second-round opponents, Babson went 16-10 last year and Connecticut College returns a veteran crew that defeated Bates last season.
Translation: challenges are expected to come early and often for the Bobcats, who enter a new era of sorts following the graduation of two of the best players in program history, Zak Ray and Rob Stockwell, as well as three other high-quality players in John Lattimer, Damon McGinn and Sam Taylor.
But the Bobcats recognize that this type of change is part of the deal in college athletics, and there is still significant continuity from the team that went 18-7 last season and nearly knocked off the eventual NCAA champion, Amherst, in the NESCAC Championship quarterfinals.
“We’re losing five great players,” said Reilly. “Rob and Zak were both great, and we’ll miss them. But one reason they were great was the legacy they left, and we want that to live on. The guys who will step in have seen other guys produce, and seen the model that we want them to emulate.”
Four returning players — senior captains Pat Halloran (Plymouth, N.H.) and Bryan Wholey (Marshfield, Mass.), and sophomores Jimmy O’Keefe (Lexington, Mass.) and Chris Wilson (Brewer, Maine) — were significant rotation players last season. (Senior guard Eric Shone blew out his knee in the offseason but will remain with the team and provide valuable leadership as a tri-captain.)
|Pat Halloran ’08 was among the NESCAC leaders in three-point field goal percentage for the second straight year.|
Wholey, the team’s top returning scorer, averaged 12.7 points per game and an impressive 4.2 rebounds at guard, and he may be even better on defense than on offense. Halloran was again one of the top three-point threats in the NESCAC, shooting .404 behind the arc and scoring 20-plus points on three occasions. Wilson was an immediate sensation as a freshman, leading the team in the season opener with 18 points and averaging 7.2 points and 23 minutes per game. The 6-foot-6 O’Keefe was an invaluable addition to the frontcourt rotation, averaging 4.3 points and 2.6 rebounds while playing 14 minutes per game.
“Pat and Wholey have proven themselves, and they’ve done a great job of getting the other guys ready for what’s ahead,” said Reilly. “Chris Wilson will have to really step up — I have high expectations for him. And Jimmy O’Keefe is going to see a lot of minutes.”
The four most established Bobcats will be complemented by a raft of talented players with an opportunity to prove themselves at the college level.
There are two juniors on the team in brawny forward Ben Thayer (Gorham, Maine) and sharpshooting guard Scott Place (Bridgewater, Mass.), who rejoins the team after taking last year off to focus on his pre-med studies.
A number of last year’s freshmen didn’t have much of a chance to show Bobcat fans what they could do last season, and that’s going to change right away. Reilly has been impressed with the work this class has put in in the offseason, calling it the best example of that he’s seen. Neil Creahan (Hingham, Mass.) is an extremely versatile 6-4 player who might play any position from point guard to power forward. Marshall Hatch (Chicago, Ill.) and David Curley (Bolton, Mass.) are talented combo guards: look for Hatch to become a defensive pest in the backcourt. And B.J. Dunne (Medfield, Mass.), who Reilly says added about 25 pounds of muscle to his 6-5 frame, will be looked upon to sustain the Bobcats’ well-earned reputation as an outstanding rebounding team. Dunne suffered a broken arm in the offseason but should join the rotation after the Bobcats’ first few games.
|Chris Wilson ’10 will be counted on heavily after showing great promise as a freshman.|
Bates’ freshman class is, in a word, big. The team’s six newcomers — including 6-7 sophomore Sean Wirth, who transferred to Bates from Salve Regina — range from 6-4 to 6-10, raising the Bobcats’ average height from 6 feet and 2.4 inches last season to 6 feet and 3.6 inches.
“We’ve brought in a lot of help in the frontcourt, and that’s going to allow us to play different this year,” said Reilly. “We’ll be able to put out bigger lineups, and we should be very balanced. But our focus will continue to be on defense and rebounding.”
Wirth (Barrington, R.I.), who just finished up a standout football season as a tight end, started 18 games for Salve Regina last season and averaged 5.9 points and 5.9 rebounds in 22.1 minutes per game for the 13-13 Seahawks.
Brian Ellis (Braintree, Mass.) is a 6-5 swingman who earned Boston Globe All-Scholastic Super Team honors, averaging 22 points and 10 rebounds for Braintree High. “Brian has so far produced the most out of the freshman class in our practices,” said Reilly. Also vying for playing time will be Nick Schmiemann (Weymouth, Mass.), a 6-6 swingman who started at Boston College High on the school’s first state championship team since 1917. Alex Gallant, a 6-4 forward from Bangor High School, “is going to be a great player for us,” said Reilly. Rounding out the roster are 6-4 Devin De La Cruz (East Greenwich, R.I.) and 6-10 Elliot Foster (Coral Springs, Fla.), the tallest player Reilly has coached at Bates.
“We’re going to be very young this year, and we’re also going to have good players who aren’t playing much,” said Reilly. “Guys are going to have to have a team-first approach. I want depth to be an advantage for us, and it can be if guys are all on the same page and taking advantage of the opportunities they have.”
Bates’ schedule is possibly its most challenging non-league slate in the Reilly era. In addition to the Babson tipoff tournament this weekend, the Bobcats will face Bowdoin in an early non-league game on Dec. 1; they’ll travel to Washington, D.C., for the Catholic University Classic Jan. 5-6, where they’ll face the City College of New York, followed by either the host Cardinals or Salve Regina. Other non-league opponents include Southern Maine, Endicott, Thomas, Husson, New England, Colby, UMass-Boston, St. Joseph’s (Me.), Gordon and UMaine-Farmington.
As for the always-challenging NESCAC schedule, it too might be even tougher this season. While the majority of the teams in the league improved last season, Bates will be one of the younger, if not the youngest, team in the conference.