Havre Daily News Sports
It may seem like it's not even close to the time when fans normally start talking college basketball. Make no mistake about it, however, the college basketball season is here and it begins today for the Montana State University Northern Lights.
The Lights' 2005 season gets under way today at a tournament in Edmonton, Alberta, where they will face The Kings University College. On Friday, the Lights will take on Concordia U.C./North British Colombia. How the Lights fare in their first two games will determine which team they play on Saturday, which is the final day of the tournament.
MSU-Northern doesn't usually begin its season this early, but Lights' head coach Shawn Huse took an invitation to the Edmonton tournament after the Lewis-Clark State tournament was cancelled this summer. What is even more unusual than playing this early in October is the fact that some of the games the Lights play this weekend may not even count on their regular season schedule.
”It is an interesting thing, because a couple of teams up there won't count if we play them,“ Huse said. ‘‘There are several schools who will count for us but it just depends.
”This trip is tough for us this early, and we don't really like to play this early,“ Huse added. ”But we're grateful that we got in, because we lost some games later in the year. So we needed these games.“
Northern comes into today's action with hopes of turning around what was by far the Lights' most difficult season under Huse. The Lights went 12-18 overall, but managed to go a mere 3-11 in Frontier Conference play.
What gives Huse hope for the 2005-06 season is the return of most of his top players, plus what Huse calls one of his best recruiting classes since he became the Lights head coach.
”I think what is different about our team this year is that we return more guys that have a lot of experience,“ Huse said. ”Last year we really struggled in that respect and that won't be the case this season.
”We have also added some guys that will impact our team right away,“ he added. ”I am really happy with how we recruited this year.“
Indeed, the Lights' are much more experienced this season, returning three starters who are all seniors. Northern has the luxury of returning its top two scorers in seniors Jordan Matthews and Marcus Wilson. Wilson also led the Lights in rebounding a year ago. Belgrade's Reid Stovall is also back to provide even more leadership and experience, as is point guard Leo Bullchild. Former Havre high standout Cory Brothers returns after an up-and-down freshman season, but Huse expects that Brothers will be a high-impact player for the Lights this season.
Also returning to the roster from last season are senior Pathe Yatera and sophomore Cody Gillespie.
”All of the guys we have coming back really benefitted from playing so much last season,“ Huse said. ”The seniors that we have all played great for us last year. But I think you are going to see guys like Cory Brothers and Cody Gillispie really step up and contribute more this year.
”Both of those guys worked really hard to improve this summer.“
As for Northern's newcomers, Huse is very excited about all of them. The three who will make the biggest impact are 6-5 junior forward Ronnie Simpson from San Diego, Calif., 6-3 junior guard Brian Erickson from Salt Lake City, Utah, and 6-9, 250-pound junior center Yanif Ducreay from Commonwealth of the Dominicana. All three are junior-college transfers who will figure heavily into the Lights mix for playing time this season.
”Ronnie Simpson is a true scorer and he can do pretty much everything well on the floor,“ Huse said. ”Brian Erickson is a guy who is a real leader on the floor and he knows how to take care of the basketball. And Yanif Ducreay is a guy we really needed to add because we have lacked that true center for a couple of years and he will provide that for us.
”I think those three guys are going to come in and help us out right away,“ he added.
One things fans will notice right away about the Lights' this season is their added size. Northern should match up very well with most of the athletic teams in the Frontier Conference. That is an area in which Huse's team was sorely lacking last year.
”We had two big holes to fill this season,“ Huse said. ”Obviously, we were lacking a true center and overall size on the inside, and I think we have taken care of that really well.
”We also lacked some scoring punch on the floor,“ he added. ”Jordan is a great scorer, but I think this year you'll see more guys step up and provide some scoring to our lineup.“
Since it is October, there is literally no reason to even talk about the Frontier Conference season. Northern doesn't begin Frontier Conference play until Jan. 6, when it travels to University of Montana-Western. Still, Huse understands how tough a season in the Frontier Conference can be, which is why these early season games are so important.
”It's a long season and it is a tough season,“ Huse said. ”Our league is very tough every year and it will be again this season.
”Right now we're using these games to prepare for that season and we're looking for effort and hustle out of these guys,“ he added. ”It has been there in practice, and now it is time to carry that over to a game situation.“
The MSU-Northern will host its annual alumni game on Oct. 15. The official home-opener for the Lights will be Oct. 22, when they host the University of Regina.