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October 21, 2012

Breakfast with the Broncos signifies beginning of new era at WMU

"Breakfast with the Broncos" has become a tradition at Western Michigan over the years and a staple of the WMU basketball program. The event falls annually on the weekend following the first official week of basketball practice. For seniors Nate Hutcheson, Brandon Pokley, and Dan Loney, this will be their last as a Bronco basketball player.

"It's crazy to think about this being my last Breakfast with the Broncos," said senior Nate Hutcheson. "It's just been a fun experience kicking off the season with a scrimmage with our best fans here. It's a fun way to kick off the season with a little bit of competition."

Also in attendance Saturday morning were several Western Michigan basketball recruits, including 2013 verbal commits Leo Svete and Tucker Haymond. Former players Steve Green, Andrew Hershberger, and Brian Snider, who ranks third among the Broncos all-time assist leaders and was a member of the 2003-2004 MAC Championship team, also made an appearance.

"It's a great thing for us," said head coach Steve Hawkins. "The players get a lot out of it. It gives our fans a chance to start thinking basketball and how it's just around the corner. It's a chance for everybody to see how the team looks. I thought it was a great turn out."

But what "Breakfast with the Broncos" really largely signifies, is the beginning of a new era of Bronco basketball, of which nearly half of the 17-man roster this season is composed of true freshmen; eight in total.

"If you were to compare pictures of last year's team to this year's team, this year's team looks like pines and last year's team looks like oaks," described Hawkins.

"We cannot afford to combine that lack of strength with a lack of toughness. We have to actually overcome a lack of strength with toughness and have a high level of activity and physicality. I feel like it's been a staple of our program ever since we've taken over. It is who we are and so it's what we preach."

Many of the incoming freshmen have already done a fair share of bulking up and hitting the weight room ever since arriving on campus earlier this summer. Freshmen A.J. Avery, Charles Harris, Jared Klein, Darius Paul, Taylor Perry, Connor Tava have each added roughly 10-15 lbs. pounds already.

"Everybody looks a lot different," said Hawkins. "Darius (Paul) looks tremendous right now, Jared (Klein) looks good too, and Charles (Harris) looks great. Of course [Charles] hasn't been able to run as much. But he's looking a lot better."

Although Harris was still not able to participate in any of the Broncos' three scrimmages on Saturday, he is very close to being able to play in contact drills in practice and is expected to be one hundred percent by the beginning of the season.

"Any semblance or hint of weak basketball, we've got to weed it out immediately and concentrate on that and really hammer it home because it will be magnified with our lack of strength."

Besides all of the freshmen living in the same dormitory together sharing similar routines and daily schedules, they each share a similar experience in adjusting to the physicality and work ethic that the Broncos coaching staff demands, and also the pace of division one basketball.

"The pace is a lot faster," noted Connor Tava. "Everybody tells you that but you don't really get to see it or experience it until you're actually out on the floor."

"I feel like my strongest point on the court is probably my defense and rebounding so that's what I'm just trying to focus on right now and the other stuff will just come."

"Physicality and speed are the biggest differences" added Kellen McCormick who drained five three-pointers in the second scrimmage of the day.

"Our practices out here are battles. It's just a war out here. So getting used to that, it's just a different game."

"A lot of us have class together so we all wake up at the same time, eat breakfast together, go to class, and then hit the gym," said
Jared Klein.

"Having your teammates all on the same schedule really helps everything too."

"It's funny because we really do go everywhere together," said McCormick in agreement. "Our dorm rooms are all next to each other so we're always in each others rooms watching football games, basketball games, playing video games... we're always together."

"We've literally become a family. It's pretty cool. And so I just think that having that core group of guys has made the transition to college ten times easier because you've got a new family right away."

"I don't remember having as good of team chemistry in the time that I've been here," said Hawkins.

"I can't think of a better team chemistry than what we've had right now. The freshmen breath new life into the program. It's been so much fun to be around a great group of talented and coachable kids. Everyone has just fit in nicely."

"It's a lot easier," said A.J. Avery, "because we're all getting used to the roughness and toughness of the game. Charles Harris is my roommate so we do everything together. The coaches are pushing us to get better every day."

Coach Kool has also played a vital role in the development of the freshmen as a former player in Steve Hawkins system.

"It's a lot of tough love," explained Kool. "But at the end of the day, Coach Hawk wants the best for you and that's what I like to remind the guys. He might get on you but what we like to tell them is that if he's not getting on you, then you're probably doing something wrong. If he is getting on you, then you're probably doing something right and that means that he cares."

"We're really excited about [the freshmen]. They're all progressing at a different rate, but they're all progressing. They've all brought their hardhats to work every day, and that's all that we can ask as a coaching staff. We're throwing a lot of new things at them every day and they've responded in great fashion. Because they work so hard and they're all great kids, it make it that much easier to coach them."

Coach Hawkins seemed to agree with Coach Kool's sentiments saying, "it's been two steps forward, and one step backwards for most of them. But at least it's two steps forward. I think that the improvement has been there."

"They haven't learned how to practice yet. They haven't learned how to sustain a two hour and forty-five minute practice. Some of them will physically practice hard, but to mentally concentrate as well as put out physical effort, they haven't gotten there yet."

"They're just coachable," explained Hawkins.

"They're coachable in all phases of the game. It's made a world of difference in the tone of the practice and the tone of the team. They're eager to learn. There's something behind their eyes. They're very conscientious kids. They want to learn and they want to get better. And that's not always the case in every program in America. Sometimes you've got to figure out a way to get to these guys, or to motivate them. These kids, you just tell them and then they try to do that."

With the ten extra days of practice and four extra games in Europe, players are anxious to get going and begin the 2012-2013 schedule.

"With the ten practices leading up to Europe, we kind of got a taste of what it was going to be like," said Kellen McCormick. "But now we can see the season right around the corner. Everything seems more realistic and it's kind of amped up a bit."

"We're looking forward to surprising some people," said Nate Hutcheson. "In some of the polls we might not be picked to do very well. We know what we've got in our locker room, and we know that we can beat anybody. We just have to play to our potential."

The Broncos begin the 2012-2013 season with an exhibition game at University Arena against Kalamazoo College on Thursday, November 1 at 7:00 p.m. They'll also play Roosevelt University on Saturday, November 3 at 2:00 p.m. at University Arena. They begin their regular season schedule at Cornell on Saturday, November 10 on the road in Ithaca, New York.

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