The calendar shows that the Wabash Valley College men’s basketball team will open the season on Friday night. But, if Warrior coach Dan Sparks had his way, he would start the entire pre-season all over again.
“Things have been tough,” Sparks said, recalling a pre-season without a single practice at full strength. One player has missed every practice to date, another has been fighting a lingering injury, and another has been slowed by illness.
Ready or not, the season is here, as the Warriors host Earl C. Clements on Friday at Spencer Sports Center. Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
For starters, Phillip Jackson, the biggest of the Warriors at 6-foot-9, “about broke his ankle” and has been out since mid-September, according to Sparks. Guard Thomas Feeney, 6-1 from Anchorage, Ala., has had Achilles tendon problems since the start, and though now practicing, has been slow to mend. And, Princeton sophomore Jalen Packer, a member of the Tigers 2009 Indiana Class 3A state championship team, has missed several practices because of illness and family matters.
“I haven’t had the whole team where we could work together or come up with a starting lineup or even a rotation yet,” Sparks said.
With 14 new faces on the 15-man roster, Sparks can’t even fall back on previous experience to get them through this rough patch. Only 5-9 guard Lawrence Kinney from Champaign is back, and he had only limited playing time on last year’s
Jackson could be cleared by doctors as soon as Friday. If that is the case, “he will be able to start practicing,” Sparks said. “But, we will have to catch him up, because we’ve been putting in offensive sets and defensive rotations. He’s been watching from the sidelines, but watching it and doing it are two different things.”
The schedule offers very little relief. Following the opener, the Warriors host the Paducah Predators on Monday at 7:30 p.m. Then, after road games at Moberly, Mo. and Danville Area, WVC hosts new program Elizabethtown Tech, Ky. and the Lindsey-Wilson JV team. After that, it’s almost non-stop Region 24 or Great Rivers Athletic Conference warfare.
Now that Vincennes University has been assigned to the region by the NJCAA, that means a resumption in the home-and-home series between the two long-time rivals as well.
Sparks knows he has a team full of scoring threats, but says a lot of work remains on defense. “Defensively, we’ve got a long way to go. We get lost a lot,” he said. “It’s going to take some time to train people to play defense the way we want, with intensity, causing some transition points.”
The NJCAA Division I pre-season basketball poll has been released, and no team from Region 24 cracked the Top 20. Defending national champion South Plains, Tx. is No. 1, followed by Northwest Florida State and Howard, Tx. Vincennes is sixth.
Danville Area is 13th in the pre-season NJCAA Division II poll.