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The amount of unknowns surrounding the IPFW men's basketball program are as abundant as there are basketballs bouncing at the Gates Sports Center this summer.
The Mastodons have a new coach with new players in a new system and many are curious about all of those and whether or not the magical 2013-14 season of 25 victories was a one-hit wonder type of thing.
The squad is embarking on a three-game, five-day tour in Canada next month and is in the midst of practices in preparing for that.
“We're going to start three different lineups and we are probably going to have our substitutions scripted before we go into it,” first-year coach Jon Coffman said. “We have a plan to get every body some game time experience to see what we have.”
IPFW graduated three starters this May, but even more so than the four new players (freshmen John Konchar and Gage Davis, and junior college transfers Michael Calder and Jure Gunjina) getting acclimated into the program, Coffman also has a number of unknowns returning to the team.
“We have four players that didn't play much last year,” Coffman explained, and four new players.”
The veterans that have the ability to fill significant roles this year include redshirt junior wing Herbert Graham, redshirt senior guard Kevin Harden, redshirt sophomore center Brent Calhoun, and redshirt junior guard Max Landis.
In the case of Graham and Calhoun, they simply have been behind more experienced and better players up to this point. However, to lump Harden and Landis into the category of “unknowns” isn't entirely accurate, because both have shown they can play at this level earlier in their careers.
Harden was recently approved for a medical redshirt in order to participate this season after suffering a knee injury midway through the 2012-13 season. He started the first dozen games of that season and dropped 22 points against Eastern Illinois before missing 21 games with the injury. He has rehabilitated diligently and is looking good so far in summer workouts.
With Landis, he sat out this past season after transferring from a very successful Gardner-Webb program. The Indianapolis native started nine games during his sophomore season and averaged nearly eight points per game. But for both Harden and Landis, it's been a very long time since they've competed in an actual game, so this foreign trip will be invaluable to getting them indoctrinated back into the rhythm of playing.
“As you get into game preparation, there is a different pressure with making a shot when there is playing time on the line and when there is a game on the line,” Coffman said. “Max has had a tremendous off-season. He's spent a lot of time shooting the basketball and he's advanced his game.
“Max has to make shots as the pressure gets going. We're determining playing time right now so he's got to be able to knock down shots to get himself to earn minutes.”
Both Harden and Landis face the same challenge in that, they could play well, but quite frankly, IPFW has a crowded perimeter rotation due to an abundance of talent.
Seniors Joe Edwards and Isaiah McCray return, as does Summit League Sixth Man of the Year sophomore Mo Evans.
“There are a lot of new guys,” Coffman said, “so we need to get them some experience to see who can break into the rotation.”
IPFW has a mixture of returning players that saw limited action, as well as plain old new players on its 2014-15 roster. Here is a look at the new players and what they bring to the table:
6-foot-4, redshirt junior wing
Long, athletic wing has the ability to be the best player on the floor during practices. Can really shoot the basketball. So why has he seen limited time? The Mastodons' games are full court and you have to play well defensively as much as offensively.
If Graham plays a solid level defensively (Coffman's goal is to improve the team defense this season), he'll find minutes. He's too talented not to.
6-foot-4 freshman combo guard
Versatile player can play either point guard, shooting guard or even has the size to play the "3" at times. However, he's a true freshman that needs to get stronger and gain experience at this level. Could really benefit from redshirting this season. How good was he in high school? The Notre Dame coaching staff drove to Chicago to personally see him play. Twice. Kid has a bright future with IPFW.
6-foot-1 redshirt junior combo guard
Gardner-Webb transfer can shoot the basketball and can play limited minutes at the point. Has experience playing Division I basketball, so won't be flustered when given the opportunity. He'll find a role this season in the rotation. He's too experienced and talented not to.
6-foot-2 junior guard
Junior college transfer can play the point guard position well and spent extra time with Landis and Evans working on his shooting following practice Monday. Calder knows his role is to get others involved and has the athleticism to penetrate and create - for others. Will probably get minutes behind Evans at the point this year.
6-foot-2 freshman shooting guard
Athletic periemeter player that could be good for the Mastodons - in the future. He needs strength and experience and like Konchar, could really benefit from redshirting this season.
6-foot-2 redshirt senior combo guard
Much like Graham's time is based on an if, so is Harden's. If Harden is the player close to the one he was nearly 24 months ago, IPFW just landed a key cog to its attack this season. The guy - when healthy - is really, really good. How good? He beat out former IPFW stars Pierre Bland and Luis Jacobo for MVP in their junior college league a few years ago. A rotation of a healthy Harden, Evans, McCray, Landis, with a defensive Graham and Calder contributing is really good.
6-foot-8 junior forward
Skilled front court player can stretch defenses at the four position with his shooting. Needs experience at this level, but IPFW can play Joe Reed a ton at the four or go small with Edwards or Graham, so Gunjina's development is needed, but the season doesn't ride on it.
6-foot-8 redshirt sophomore center
Has battled one of the top posts in the country (IPFW senior Steve Forbes) every day in practice for two years and has benefited from it. Like Forbes, has changed his body physically and athletically. This guy can play now that he's gained strength and lost fat. He can score around the basket and is active on the glass. He'll spend another year behind Forbes, but the difference is he'll get minutes this year. Future is bright for this guy.