Duplicating its recent success will undoubtedly be a challenging task this season for the Iowa Central men's basketball team.
After posting 48 combined victories over the past two years, the Tritons must fill the glaring void left by departed sophomores Marc Musungayi, Duke Reed, Robert Goffney, Riley Stuve and Nate Marsh. Iowa Central, which is fresh off back-to-back appearances in the Region XI Championship game, reached the NJCAA Div. II National Tournament for the first time since 1990 last winter.
"There's no question it's going to be difficult to replace all that experience we lost," said Hall of Fame ICCC head coach Dennis Pilcher, who ranks sixth all-time among NJCAA coaches with 746 career wins. "We have just one starter and one reserve back, so it's going to take a period of time before we figure everything out. I think we could be a pretty good basketball team, though, by the first part of January."
Guard Rhys Elliot, a 6-foot-1 sophomore, will be leaned on as a top offensive threat for the Tritons, who lost more than 76 percent of their total scoring (1,772 of 2,319 points) and rebounding (835 of 1,084 boards) output from the 2011-12 campaign. Elliot averaged 9.5 points and 3.9 rebounds in 34 starts as a freshman en route to earning honorable mention all-region honors.
"Rhys is the offensive leader for us on the perimeter," Pilcher said. "We're really counting on him to step up his production from last season."
David Anderson is the only other returning player on Iowa Central's roster. Anderson, a 6-foot-7 center, delivered 6.6 points and 3.4 boards in 34 games a year ago.
"We're not quite as strong inside as we were last season, but down the road I think we could be," said Pilcher. "We seem to have more speed and quickness and shoot the ball a little better overall from the outside right now."
Newcomers expected to make a major impact are Jesse Jones, Casey Sieren, Deion Isham and Chris Tawiah.
Jones, a 5-foot-9 guard from Texas, netted 16 points a night in his final prep season. He was named the all-county offensive Most Valuable Player for his efforts, while wrapping up his career as his high school's all-time top scorer.
"Jones has speed and quickness and can shoot the ball from the perimeter," Pilcher said. "He's learning to be a leader, which is what we want him to do."
Isham, a 5-foot-11 guard out of Ohio, posted 14 points per contest as a first-team all-league selection last winter. Sieren, a 6-foot-4 forward, was also a second-team Class 1A INA all-state nominee as a senior at Keota, where he registered 18.6 points, 10.6 rebounds, 4.5 steals and 3.8 blocks.
"Sieren just does all the little things and is a blue-collar worker," said Pilcher. "Typical Iowa Central teams have good balance offensively, with maybe four or five guys scoring in double figures. One freshman could come along and have a big scoring night, and someone else might do the job the following game. We need to have two or three guys coming off the bench as well making contributions."
The Tritons, who are ranked 18th in the NJCAA Div. II preseason poll, dropped their first two outings of the year to Div. I opponents Marshalltown (65-61) and Southeastern (82-69) this past weekend at the Southeastern Classic.
"Even though we lost, we had the lead in both games over the weekend and played hard," Pilcher said. "We've really been emphasizing taking better care of the basketball and not turning it over inside. On the defensive end, we can't allow any easy shots in transtion, either. We must find a way to be more consistent in those areas this season."
No. 7 Kirkwood (27-5 overall, 13-1 in the ICCAC last season) and Des Moines Area (25-8, 9-5) appear to be the frontrunners for the league crown, according to Pilcher.
Serving as Pilcher's assistants will once again be Chad Helle and Rex Parker.
"I still enjoy coaching and making the guys better basketball players," said Pilcher, who is entering his 35th year at the helm. "Helping them get their education and move on to a four-year program is what it's all about to me. The wins and all the rest of the stuff are just icing on the cake."
Iowa Central's 2012-13 home opener is set for tonight against Grand View JV. Action begins at 7:30 p.m. inside Hodges Fieldhouse.
2012-13 IOWA CENTRAL MEN'S BASKETBALL
Sophomores - Rhys Elliot, 6-1, so., G, Adelaide, Aus.; David Anderson, 6-7, so., C, Lester Prairie, Minn.
Freshmen - Puot Kudhot, 6-3, fr., G, Lincoln, Neb.; Jawad Adekoya, 6-3, fr., G, Homewood, Ill.; Jesse Jones, 5-9, fr., G, Magnolia, Tex.; Malcolm Smith, 6-2, fr., G, Cincinnati, Oh.; Jaleel Gray, 6-2, fr., G, Covington, Ken.; Malik Brooks, 5-10, fr., G, San Antonio, Tex.; Deion Isham, 5-11, fr., G, Cincinnati, Oh.; Casey Sieren, 6-4, fr., F, Keota; Rafael Cardenas, 5-9, fr., G, Columbus Junction; Jerel Rose, 6-4, fr., F, West Des Moines; Dean Wanliss, 6-5, fr., F, United Kingdom; America Gatluak, 6-7, fr., C, Sioux Falls, S.D.; Chris Tawiah, 6-9, fr., C, United Kingdom.
Remaining Triton Schedule
Nov. 6 - Grand View JV, 7:30 p.m.; 9- vs. Northeast Nebraska at Hawks Classic (Norfolk, Neb.), 8 p.m.; 10 - vs. Central-Columbus at Hawks Classic (Norfolk, Neb.), 2 p.m.; 16 - vs. John Wood at Baymont Classic (Boone), 5:30 p.m.; 17 - vs. Black Hawk at Baymont Classic (Boone), 2 p.m.; 21 - at Dakota County, 8 p.m.; Nov. 26 - Southeastern, 6:30 p.m.; 29 - Simpson, 6 p.m.
Dec. 3 - Waldorf, 6 p.m.; 8 - Des Moines Area, 3 p.m.; 14 - vs. TBA at William Bear Classic (Freeport, Ill.); 15 - vs. TBA at William Bear Classic (Freeport, Ill.); 19 - Northeast Nebraska, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 2 - Dakota County, 5:30 p.m.; 5 - at Ellsworth, 3 p.m.; 9 - North Iowa Area, 7:30 p.m.; 16 - at Kirkwood, 7:30 p.m.; 19 - Clinton, 1 p.m.; 23 - at Iowa Lakes, 7:30 p.m.; 30 - Southwestern, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 2 - at Des Moines Area, 3 p.m.; 6 - Ellsworth, 7:30 p.m.; 9 - at North Iowa Area, 3 p.m.; 13 - at Marshalltown, 7 p.m.; 16 - Kirkwood, 3 p.m.; 20 - at Clinton, 7 p.m.; 23 - Iowa Lakes, 7:30 p.m.
March 2 - at Southwestern, 3 p.m.