Broncoblizt sat down with WMU head coach Steve Hawkins to discuss the upcoming season in the MAC, get his thoughts on MAC West opponents, and to evaluate this years Broncos squad. Two publications have already picked WMU to win the MAC West, but with 8 new freshmen a lot of question marks remain unanswered. We began our interview looking at the MAC West.
MAC West Preview
Broncoblitz- Would you say the MAC West is down this year?
Hawkins- No, not at all. I think it is all going to balance out. The last couple of years the power's been in the east, but the consensus from other coaches around the conference is that it's going to balance out this year. I think we're (the MAC West) a little bit stronger and that the east is a little bit weaker.
Broncoblitz- We're going to look at each team individually in the MAC West, staring with Eastern Michigan. Big, athletic front line, and a very solid guard in Medlock. Where do you see them?
Hawkins- I had to turn in my votes for the preseason, and I picked them number one in the West. They have everybody back, and in this league juniors and seniors win. They are full of juniors and seniors with a lot of experience. They have shooting, they have defense, they've been with Coach Ramsey for awhile now and they know his system. We split with them last year, and they were competitive even though they were missing key starters throughout the year.
Broncoblitz- Central Michigan lost Giordi Watson, they lost Nate Minnoy, and it appears Jordan Bitzer and Marcus Van may be gone for awhile as well. Where do you see them?
Hawkins- The big question mark on them going in would be how are they going to replace Giordan Watson. Now you throw in the other questions that you mention, and it's tough to tell what they're going to look like. Their system with Watson reminded me of our system when I was an assistant here with Robby Collum. The ball was in Robby's hand a ton, and it was that way with Watson. He's going to be hard to replace, but they still have a lot of talent. Marco Spica has added 15 pounds and he's got a lot of talent. Kellerman is big and he can score inside or out. At 6'9" and 6'8" those two form a very difficult four five combo.
Spica is a very difficult player for us to scout. He has a variety of release points, and different moves to the hoop, and you just can't be sure what he's going to do with the ball. He's had occasional foul trouble and that might explain why he hasn't put it all together yet. But this could be the year he does.
Walk-on Robby Harmon has really improved, he killed us at their place last year. Jeremy Allen is back, and he should be improved as well. They have some things in place, but there will probably be some question marks with their depth and with the status of Van and Bitzer.
Broncoblitz-Ball State and NIU finished with 6-24 and 6-22 records and they lost a lot of their best players. Where do you see them in the West?
Hawkins-Northern Illinois had some really good freshmen, in fact I believe two of them made the All Freshmen team. Ricardo and Billy are both great recruiters. I do know a couple of the kids that Ball State brought in because we were following them as well. They're very talented freshmen.
With a full year of recruiting and coaching in the MAC I think both teams have a real chance to be better even though they lost some pieces. It's not always about talent. It's also about stability in the program and establishing a team identity.
Western Michigan Basketball
Broncoblitz- On an unrelated note, the floor in the arena has changed, and looks very good. Was the two tone three point arch your idea?
Hawkins- We didn't have the funds this year to sand the whole floor down and redo the whole thing, but we had to change the three point arch for the new mens distance, and to show the womens line as well. Since we had to change the MAC logos on the floor, our facilities people decided to strip and sand everything inside the three point arch and go with the two tone look. I think it turned out really nice.
Broncoblitz-Speaking of the new three point line, is that going to be a positive for your program? You do have some long distance shooters.
Hawkins-That remains to be seen. There are so many question marks going into the year because of our age. We're very young. We have 16 players on the roster and 8 of them are freshmen. There were a couple of players last year that we would allow to take three point shots, that with the new three I wouldn't. Andrew Hershberger and Shawntees were the two. However, Shawnee has been working very hard this summer on his shot and has shown improvement in his range. Other players it's not going to effect their shot. Mike Redell, Dre Ricks, David Kool obviously, and Derek Drews.
Broncoblitz-You just mentioned four players who have legit range with the new three. Shouldn't that make this adjustment a strength for your team?
Hawkins- It could, but we're a couple of days from starting practice and I've seen the difference in them already. The reality is, you're not shooting the ball from 20'9" you're actually shooting it from about 22 feet, and it matters.
Broncoblitz-Derek Drews, senior, a lot of range, and not really playing his natural position. How are you going to try and use Derek?
Hawkins-A lot of people didn't know that Derek played most of the year with an injured back. Derek's not a bad athlete, but when you have a bad back for an entire season you become a below average athlete. All of his problems were on the defensive end. He struggled with lateral quickness, and he struggled with defensive rebounding. So much of basketball today is moving towards ball screens, and Derek would have to jump out on guards and hedge on ball screens. His lateral movement hurt him a lot on that.
Broncoblitz-Many people thought Drews was playing out of position at the PF slot. If Shanwtees wasn't here, would Drews be a natural wing, or would he have had the same problems?
Hawkins-He'd have still had the same problems, probably more so. At the three he's defending an even quicker player. Offensively, Derek can play the 2,3 or 4. He's very capable offensively. If Derek's health is improved we think he'll be effective.
Broncoblitz-You were quoted as saying Mike Redell's assist to turnover ratio was high because of the new offense you'd installed. Mike's a senior. Is the point guard spot his or will their be competition from Mike Douglas?
Hawkins-Don't forget David Kool in that mix. If Mike did get a little too crazy with turnovers we went to David a lot at the point and moved Andre to the two. Now you not only throw in Mike Douglas at the point, but you have [/db]Demetrius Ward[/db], who is a very strong guard who I really like a lot. If we feel like Andre is getting outsized we can go to a three guard line up with Demetrius, David, and Shawntees and have a very strong lineup.
But early on, there's no question that Mike Redell has a distinct advantage because of his knowledge of the system. We stepped out there today and we introduced some offense. Mike Douglas had four questions. Mike Redell on the other hand could fall out of bed and run those plays. Being able to react on the floor vs. thinking on the floor is the key difference between freshmen and veterans. As the year progresses that will change. Mike Douglas is a very talented guard, and he'll pick up the system. Right now we have to get some of the mentality out of him that you see in high school guards--the mentality that turnovers are okay. Freshmen just don't value the ball as much, they don't grasp the value of a possession at the college level.
Later this week we break down the incoming freshmen class with Coach Hawkins, and look at each individual players overall improvement. Stay tunned for Part II of "Hawk Talks."