SPOKANE, Wash. – It has become a familiar refrain in Whitworth men's basketball season preview stories. The Pirates lose their top player or two from the previous season – how will they carry on without him or them?
Last fall it was NCAA Division III Player of the Year Michael Taylor and four-time All-NWC honoree David Riley and Whitworth went on to finish 26-4. In 2010 it was All-American post Nate Montgomery and All-NWC guard Eric Beal and the Bucs finished 28-2. In 2009 it was Ross Nakamura and Calvin Jurich, in 2008 it was Ryan Symes and Collin Willemsen, in 2007 it was Bryan Williams, Jon Young and James Jones, in 2006 it was Lance Pecht. And each year Whitworth went to the NCAA Division III tournament.
Now the Bucs will have to move on without a 2012 senior class that included Felix Friedt and Idris Lasisi, both of whom made lasting marks on the Whitworth program.
"There is no question this year's team will look different," said second-year head coach Matt Logie, who was named NWC Coach of the Year in his rookie season. "However, we talked about it last spring and our returning players are very hungry for the opportunity to show that they can do more and step into those leadership positions in our program."
Whitworth, ranked 14th in the D3hoops.com preseason poll, returns three starters from last season. In addition to posting a 26-4 record the Pirates won the Northwest Conference with a 15-1 mark, won their sixth straight NWC tournament and reached the third round of the NCAA Division III tournament by winning two games away from home for the first time.
Wade Gebbers will be Whitworth's starting point guard for the third season in a row. He was a Second Team All-Northwest Conference selection last season when he averaged 12.8 points while making 42% of his three-pointers and dishing 3.3 assists per game.
"Wade understands what it takes to be successful at a championship level and plays with a chip on his shoulder," Logie said. "He wants to go out like the seniors in our program that have come before him and the rest of the guys on our team follow his lead."
Dustin McConnell took over as the shooting guard last year and ended up starting the final 22 games of the season. He averaged 7.7 points per game and also spent time as Gebbers' back up at point guard.
Colton McGargar was one of the first players off of the bench for Whitworth last season and he saw action in 29 of the 30 games. He averaged 4.7 points per contest and played key minutes during the Pirates' games in the NWC and NCAA tournaments.
While Colton may be considered a backup guard again this season, Logie could use McCargar as a starter at the small forward position if Logie chooses to go with a "small" starting lineup.
"I'm excited to see Dusty and Colton continue their progress," Logie said.
Robby Douglas has had to battle through persistent injury problems in his career, but if he regains full health he will give Logie another key option at either guard position. Grant McNiel and Taylan Yildiz provide youthful back up at the point guard spot, as does Kyle McEachran at shooting guard.
Last season Logie moved Idris Lasisi to a starting role at small forward and that change to a smaller lineup sparked the Pirates to a strong finish. The same thing could happen from the get-go this year if he plays McCargar at the "three" spot.
Austin Ehlo has a year of experience under his belt and he could make a push for starting in that position once he finishes out football season.
The Pirates could also choose to go to a youngster as starter at small forward. George Valle has impressed coaches and teammates alike with his practices so far and his long frame helps him play bigger than his listed height of 6'-3". Hank Aldous is another highly-regarded first-year player who has good size (6-5) for the position.
Mack Larkin returns at power forward for the Pirates, where he made most of his 25 starts last season. He averaged seven points and four rebounds and often had the role of guarding the opposing team's best player.
If Matt Roth can come back from knee problems that hampered his Pirate career last season, he could be able to give Logie important minutes at power forward. Logie may also look to freshman Brandon Loiler as backup for that spot.
Felix Friedt left big shoes to fill, figuratively and literally. Taylor Farnsworth may be the one to fill them.
"Taylor spent a lot of time getting better last season and learned a lot going against Felix every day in practice," Logie said.
Zach Payne also provided key minutes in the post last year and demonstrated strong rebounding ability around the basket. Adam Wilks has moved to the post position and has played admirably in practice. Dan Hutchinson is a big guy (7-0) who Logie believes can help the Pirates greatly down the road.
"Ultimately it will take a collective effort from everyone continuing to improve as the season progresses," Logie concluded.
Whitworth has an exciting and challenging schedule in 2012-13. The Pirates open the season at home against St. Thomas (Minn.), the 2011 NCAA Division III champions who hope to make another title run this year. Also coming to the Fieldhouse for non-conference games this season are Texas-power Mary Hardin-Baylor, UC Santa Cruz, Simpson (Iowa) and Hamlin (Minn.).
Whitworth will also make an important three-game road swing through California in mid-December with in-region contests against Occidental, Chapman and Redlands.
The Northwest Conference continues to improve and Whitman, Puget Sound, Pacific Lutheran and Lewis & Clark all figure to have their sights set on unseating Whitworth this season.
Whitworth will warm up for the season with a game against NCAA Div. I Idaho State on Tuesday in an exhibition contest in Pocatello, Idaho.