The 2011-12 Western Michigan men's basketball season was certainly a disappointing one, with the Broncos failing to live up to lofty preseason expectations. For head coach Steve Hawkins, however, there is no time to dwell on the past season, as there is plenty to do to get ready for 2012-13.
The season will essentially begin over the summer, as WMU will take a trip to Europe. Hawkins says this trip will particularly benefit the seven freshmen coming into the fold.
"This is massive, because we get to practice for ten days before we go, and then we play four or five games when we're there. So we'll be able to evaluate a little bit better on what it is these kids can do," Hawkins said.
Of thirteen scholarship players on the team right now, seven are freshmen, meaning that many of them will get playing time out of necessity whether WMU prefers it or not.
As for the question of redshirting, Hawkins indicated that the players will be evaluated right up until the season starts, and no decision will be made until just before the first game. This is to avoid the player possibly taking his foot off the gas, as Hawkins put it, knowing that he would not play for another year.
"Our policy with redshirts is always the same, and that is, we don't think about or talk about a redshirt until we get right up to our exhibition games," Hawkins said. "If we find ourselves in a position where we have an abundance of talent at one spot, we may visit with the kid and say 'we can offer you the chance to redshirt'. It will always be the player and his family's decision."
A storyline to watch over the summer will be the status of David Brown, who suffered a torn ACL in 2011 and missed most of the season. It was the second such season for Brown, and Hawkins compared him to Purdue's Robbie Hummel as a strong candidate for a medical redshirt and sixth year of eligibility.
"I think he will [get a sixth year]. You have to appeal the process, but based on previous rulings the NCAA has made, there is plenty of evidence."
Should Brown return for a sixth year, this would provide much needed experience to a backcourt and team that has talent but little seasoning. It would also be an opportunity for Brown, once the heir-apparent to David Kool, to salvage his career and WMU legacy.
Hawkins also spoke on the scheduling for next season, which will likely be somewhat less brutal than last year's nonconference slate.
"We have certain guidelines, and we already have series that others owe us, and we owe," he said.
WMU will play a return game at Duquesne, as well as Oakland and Towson at home. North Dakota State will come to Kalamazoo either in 2012 or 2013. The Broncos will also participate in the ESPNU BracketBusters competition once again, at home this season. A non-Division 1 team as well as two guarantee games will round out the schedule, as usual.
An interesting scheduling note comes from the movement on the football side of the MAC, as Temple was expected to be on the schedule in the coming season, but it is not known whether those commitments will be honored with their departure to the Big East. Massachusetts, who is joining the MAC in football, signed a similar agreement to Temple that requires them to play basketball series with MAC schools. UMass and Western Michigan's series is expected to get underway in 2013.
As for talk of the MAC eliminating basketball divisions because of the movement, Hawkins acknowledges the possibility but strongly disagrees with the reasoning.
"I'm not in favor of it, at all. It doesn't mean that it won't happen, but I'm not in favor of it," he said. "There's a reason professional sports uses divisions. There's an interest level involved, it keeps fans interested all the way to the end, there's rivalries, there's all of that stuff that comes into play."
This is part one of a two-part interview with Coach Hawkins. In part two, Hawkins will analyze the incoming recruiting class player-by-player and what they are expected to bring to WMU.