Oct. 26, 2012
Despite nine freshmen in the program, the 2012-13 version of the Army men's basketball team can finally be categorized as "veteran." Not only do the Black Knights welcome back five of the six players that averaged at least 5.0 points per game last season, but more importantly, the returning players have experience with what they're being asked to do.
"This will be the first time that we return any players that will have a total understanding of what their role is going to be for the upcoming season," fourth-year head coach Zach Spiker said. "Two years ago, we brought back Mitch McDonald, a senior, and Jason Pancoe, a sophomore, but neither one of them had really played true point guard minutes. That's all they did that year. The following year, Jeremy Hence had never been a go-to option on offense, but he ended up being our leading scorer. Last year, Ella (Ellis) was new in his role as being the focus of the other team's defense. This year, Ella will again be the focus. That's the first time we've had that. I think we have a few more guys like Josh Herbeck, Maxwell Lenox and Jordan Springer, who understand what they need to do and have already done it for a season or two."
Headlining the list of returning players is Ellis, a senior forward. Ellis earned first-team All-Patriot League honors last season, and is the program's first returning first-team all-conference player since 1996. He scored 17.5 points per game last season, and was the first Black Knight to score 500 points, grab 130 rebounds and hand out 50 assists in the same season since Army Sports Hall of Fame inductee Randy Cozzens in 1984-85. Ellis enters his senior season ranked 26th in program history with 1,037 points and eighth all-time with 121 career three-pointers.
"Ella still has a lot of good basketball ahead of him," Spiker said. "He worked very hard this summer and fall to develop parts of his game that were not as strong, and he made his strengths even stronger. He's embraced the opportunity to be the best player on our team."
Another record book interloper returns to the lineup in junior guard Josh Herbeck. The sharpshooter from Ann Arbor, Mich., has made 113 three-pointers in his career, ninth-most in program history and the most by any Black Knight in their first two campaigns. He hit 75 triples in 2011-12 and led the Patriot League with 40 three-pointers during conference play. A sure target for opposing defenses, Herbeck will have to expand his game in order to have the same effect in 2012-13.
"Josh is going to be a target, and he should be," Spiker said. "He's one of the best shooters in the league and in the history of the program, and the numbers show that. His records are all in the three-point category, but he has made a commitment to doing some things that diversify his portfolio and allow him to be on the court. We're going to need his vision and leadership as much as anything."
Sophomore point guard Maxwell Lenox will try to build on his plebe effort that put him on the Patriot League All-Rookie Team. Lenox was one of only two Army freshmen to play in all 30 games and led the team in assists (96) and steals (38). Despite his accolades, Lenox will need to stay on his game to maximize his playing time. The point guard position features talented newcomers that will be hard to keep off the floor.
"You look at the point guard position, and aside from Max you have Dylan Cox, who is 6-4, and Matt Gramling who has done a nice job in practice. Dylan played at the prep school last year so there is a comfort level with him, and us, for that matter."
The talented incoming class will play a key role at other positions. The abundance of size and athletic ability will give Spiker some creative options when choosing his lineups.
"We have some versatility this year that we haven't had in years past," Spiker said. "We can go with the lineup of 6-10 Kyle Ferguson at center, 6-6 Larry Toomey or 6-7 Tanner Plomb at power forward and Ella, who is 6-6, at the small forward position. We can go with some size, or we can play Maxwell, Dylan, Matt Gramling and Herbeck, and see who wants to chase us around. This team presents us with some options."
The balance of veteran experience and talented youth seems to be blending nicely in the opening weeks of practice. Spiker is pleased with how the older players have welcomed the newcomers.
"The returning players are doing a good job of indoctrinating our freshmen," he said. "It's not a battle ground. They understand that when there is competition, our program gets better."
Army opens the season against service academy rival Air Force at the Army ROTC All-Military Classic, which also features VMI and The Citadel, on Nov. 10. The Black Knights will make their home debut on Nov. 16 versus Binghamton at 4 p.m.