What a difference a year makes for Wabash Valley College basketball coach Mike Carpenter.
Not hired until June of last year, after years at Danville Area College, Carpenter and assistant Dodie Dunson managed to round up a team that was playing as well as anyone in Region 24 by the end of the season, dragging third-ranked Vincennes through the mud in a regional semifinal upset bid before settling for a final record of 13-19.
Almost one year later, he has six sophomores returning for next year and 10 players signed or committed to play in 2014-15.
Whether that leads to an instant turnaround and return to national respectability remains to be seen. But, Carpenter certainly likes the position the program is in after one year at the helm.
“For us to have 10 guys signed in April, we’re so much further ahead of last year that we can afford to sit back and wait on a couple of guys we have offered (scholarships),” said Carpenter.
If recruiting success is any indication, then expect a big turnaround. Carpenter so far is undefeated in landing players he’s been after.
“Everyone we have brought in on a visit has signed,” he said. “We’re batting 1.000.”
Carpenter did ask Jaquan Lynch, Sam Thompson, Blake Cesinger, Keith Collins, Mikael Donaldson and 6-foot-9 Brian Wilson to return for 2014-15.
Four of those six shared starting experience. Cesinger saw limited time while dealing with injuries.
Carpenter is pleased “to have those guys back and that familiarity with how we do things. It’s critical at this level. You have to have a core to have a good team.”
Wilson, 23, transferred at mid-season from Indian Hills, Iowa, but has been a part of practice since January, making him all but a returnee.
“Knowing how we run our practices and team and discipline (should bode well for Wilson),” Carpenter said. “He has shown a great amount of leadership since his second day on campus.”
Of the newcomers, Denzel Smith is one Carpenter had been familiar with during his days at DACC. Smith is a 2-time all-state selection from Danville, where he averaged 22.5 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.
Smith chose WVC over offers from Vincennes, Indian Hills and Lake Land among others. “To get him was big for our program,” Carpenter said. “He has the ability to come in and play right away.”
Brandon Wolfe, who finished third on the all-time scoring list at Casey-Westfield, signed after completing his 1,900-point prep career. “I like his basketball I.Q. and his ability to pass the ball,” Carpenter said.
There are still three scholarships available. Champaign’s 6-foot-7 Kasey Elam, who signed on Friday, could be “as good an athlete that has been in the (Great Rivers Athletic Conference) in four or five years.”
That would be the same Elam who shattered a backboard last week in Arizona by putting the ball through the glass while fouled during a slam dunk attempt. Carpenter said WVC assistant Dodie Dunson has must-see video of that play.
Carpenter is apparently in on another plum recruit, “a high-major player” who is also being courted by Kentucky, Ohio State and Louisville, as well as a Division I transfer. Another player, a 6-foot-11, 260-pound high schooler, is visiting Tuesday.
The talent buildup has not been lost on returning players, who are now aware “that they will have to step it up or they’re not going to play,” according to Carpenter. “But they’re excited about taking this to a different level next year. We’ve got some payback to issue to some people.”
NOTES: A second assistant coach has been added the men’s staff. Tanner Morris, of Bloomington, Ill., joins the WVC staff after previous juco assistant stints at Lincoln College and Howard, Tex.