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August 16, 2012

Senior leadership key to successful first 10 days of practice

With eight freshman on the roster, seniors Nate Hutcheson, Dan Loney, and Brandon Pokley are already looking to establish their legacy with the WMU men's basketball program the old fashioned way; leading by example.

"We're trying to be leaders and show these freshman the right way to do things," explained Dan Loney. "We're just trying to work with them off the court, not always in practice, but going through stuff in the locker room... you know just reminding them the right and wrong ways to do things."

Head coach Steve Hawkins has been particularly pleased with this group of seniors and how they've conducted themselves these first two weeks of practice in preparation for the team's trip to Europe.

"Our returners are doing a real nice job. I've been really pleased with our veterans in the way that they've received our young guys and how well they've talked to them. It would be very easy for them to lose patience, which still may come with time, but right now the attitude of this team is night and day compared to the frustration level we finished at last year. The attitude and the spirit is unbelievable right now. We've gotten a lot done. I couldn't ask for anything more."

With the departure of last year's graduating seniors Demetrius Ward, Flenard Whitfield, and Mike Douglas, 6-foot-4 shooting guard Brandon Pokley becomes the third most experienced Bronco on the floor behind senior forward Nate Hutcheson and sophomore guard Austin Richie.

Pokley struggled to get into any kind of a rhythm during the 2011-2012 season as he was sidelined for approximately six weeks after breaking a bone in his right foot on December 20, 2011 against Winthrop. After battling back from injury and finishing the tail end of the season on an upward slope, Pokley figures to have a breakout 2012-2013 season.

"We've been here for a few years now," said Pokley. "So we've seen great players like David Kool go through the system. We're just trying to lead by example."

Other players on the team have also stepped into leadership roles, despite not being classified as seniors just yet. And that's bound to happen with a roster full of freshman.

"I know the situation they are in," sophomore guard Austin Richie explained. "It's still fresh to me. It's only been ten months since I was in their shoes so I think definitely think it's natural that their heads are spinning. I've tried to be there for them and get their heads straight."

With the loss of transfer Matt Stainbrook, redshirt junior Shayne Whittington immediately steps into a leadership position as well, at the center position for the Broncos.

"It happens to everybody at some point that goes through the program. I've thought about it a lot. I just need to be the player that I need to be and be the role model that I need to be with the bigs in general. Danny (Loney) and I have both stepped into that role."

When asked what kind of a role the seniors had in helping prepare the WMU freshman for Europe and the upcoming 2012-2013 season, Hawkins explained the mentality that it takes to play division one basketball.

"That's been the biggest thing, you know, is trying to teach them. It's one thing for those guys to step out there and tell those freshman 'this is how we have to play, this is how hard you have to want it, or this is how high you have to jump.' They have to actually see it. We can't tell them to do it. You've got to go do it to them so that they feel that this is what division one basketball is all about. And they've done a pretty good job of that."

Hawkins went on to explain how the senior leadership has already translated into a strong team chemistry.

"The team chemistry ever since they got here has been tremendous. These [freshmen] have brought so much energy to the room. There can be a tendency for a veteran group to say, 'Oh yeah, we've got this already. We've been doing this for three years.' There's none of that here because everybody is so new. And our upperclassmen are engaged because they are trying to teach them. So their role has changed. It's really helped form team chemistry."

Says Pokley, "We're bound to form relationships when we've spent this much time together. We've definitely been growing closer over the few weeks that we've had together."

Seniors Nate Hutcheson and Dan Loney both nodded in agreement.

"We have a great group of guys," said Loney. "These freshmen are good guys. We have a good time on the court and off the court."

"We're just trying to lead by example and do what we need to do so the incoming freshmen follow after our lead," explained Hutcheson.

As far as starting lineups in Europe go, it's clear that it is one of the last things on Steve Hawkins' mind right now. The coaching staff will be looking to mix things up, get different combinations on the floor, and distribute minutes as evenly as possible.

"Absolutely zero," Hawkins said without any hesitation when asked about potential starting lineups. "I won't even think about that until we get to our first exhibition game. As far as lineups go, we'll switch all of that up while we're there all four games. Minutes are going to be evenly distributed everywhere, and that's by design. You always want to win, but I'm not going to be playing guys 32 minutes or 34 minutes a game just in an effort to win. Other guys need minutes too."

The Broncos leave for Europe tomorrow evening and will return on Monday, August 27th.

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