2017-18 Record: 17-13 overall, 8-10 GPAC (6th)
Head Coach: Ben Limback (at Concordia: 80-71, five years; career: 195-229, 14 years)
Returning Starter: Tanner Shuck (Jr.).
Other Key Returners: G Riley Tegtmeier (Jr.); G Brevin Sloup (Jr.).
Key Newcomers: F Samuel Adjei (Jr.); F Zach Auguste (Jr.); F Chuol Biel (Jr.); G Carter Kent (Fr.); G Justin Wiersema (Fr.); F Tanner Wubbels (Fr.).
Key Losses: F Zach Friel; G Cordell Gillingham; G Jake Hornick; G Chris Johnstone; G/F Kyle Pierce; F Clay Reimers.
2017-18 GPAC All-Conference: Jake Hornick (second team); Clay Reimers (second team); Cordell Gillingham (honorable mention); Tanner Shuck (honorable mention).
Those not familiar with the transformation within the program will need to have the roster handy when the Concordia University men’s basketball team opens up the 2018-19 season. Things are going to look different, but that has not deterred the anticipation for the sixth season of head coach Ben Limback’s tenure at his alma mater.
This has been an important preseason considering the wealth of new faces. The key figures back in place are juniors Tanner Shuck and Brevin Sloup, two experienced competitors best known for their abilities on the offensive end of the floor. They will be expected to lead a group that will have to grow at an accelerated pace.
“I feel like there’s a relentless work ethic,” Limback said. “Our theme this year is growth. The idea of getting better every day is so important, especially with a lot of young guys. I’ve been refreshed by their desire to learn and get better every day. I’m impressed with the depth of this team. There are days where that third team wins some of the drills and really competes. That’s what you want to see. When the lights come on and it’s game day, they need to get used to that competition.”
Shuck is the lone returning starter in a lineup that figures to be heavy on newcomers. A native of Grand Island, Neb., Shuck is one of the few holdovers that played alongside All-American Chandler Folkerts on the 2016-17 squad that won 21 games. In two seasons as a Bulldog, Shuck has poured in 152 3-point field goals (41.2 percent) and 705 points, putting him on track to become the program’s newest 1,000-point club member. He’s now physically stronger and focused on rounding out his game.
Part of Shuck’s role as the team’s most experienced player is to embrace opportunities to be a leader. Sometimes that means slowing down practice to make sure everyone is on the same page.
Says Shuck, “There are a lot of new guys. With that comes some teaching times where we have to go through things that we don’t even think about anymore as older guys. It’s more natural. It’s a little bit slower sometimes, but those guys have picked up a lot. We’ve had to pick some stuff up too. You have to stay positive and give energy. Those are some of the best ways to really get them into it. They’ve come along well.”
Shuck and Sloup have become close friends as two of the team’s elder statesmen. Sloup averaged 4.5 points while appearing in all 30 games last season. That average is likely to go up for the Seward High School product, who has a knack for making difficult shots. Even Shuck admits that he’s not sure he could take Sloup and a game of horse.
Sloup is one option at the point guard. You can also throw freshmen like Nick Cito, Nate Middleton and Carter Kent and perhaps even sophomore Grant Wragge into the mix. Kent, a 6-foot-2 product of Crete High School, possesses exciting potential. He totaled more than 1,100 points in his prep career with the Cardinals. Meanwhile, Wragge is an effort guy who also happens to have talent. He has the pedigree with his father Mark having been a standout on the hardwood at Doane.
In the frontcourt, everything is brand new. In order to have a successful season, Concordia will have to get production out of its group of transfers, which includes Sammy Adjei (San Diego Miramar College), Zach Auguste (Scottsdale CC) and Chuol Biel (McCook CC). All three look the part. Each one stands either 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8. Adjei has experience at the NAIA level having played his freshman season at Corban University (Ore.). The trio will help make this a taller and longer team than the 2017-18 one.
“The three transfers all have different style of games,” Limback said. “Zach is a physical bruiser, sets great screens and has a tremendous motor and great leadership skills. We’re expecting great things out of him. Choul is just very gifted athletically and is super long. His rebounding is very strong at both ends of the floor. He has the ability to finish as well. Sammy is probably one of our most skilled players. He is still trying to find that consistency and master the details of the game.”
The list of newcomers who will be granted opportunities carries on. Some other names to watch out for are freshmen Justin Wiersema, Tanner Wubbels and Klay Uher (another Crete HS graduate). Additionally, 6-foot-5 sophomore Ryan Holt has a chance to see more court time after appearing in eight varsity games in 2017-18. As far as junior Riley Tegtmeier, the hope is that the pain in his cranky back will subside for him to make a return to full health at some point this winter. If and when that happens, Tegtmeier will jump into the rotation.
Taking all of the new faces into account, one would be hard pressed to try to predict exactly how this season will pan out. The Bulldogs are not expecting a lot of preseason hype after placing sixth in the GPAC last season and then showing up this semester with very few players who have earned their stripes in Concordia navy and white.
Says Limback, “There are so many new pieces. Some days we struggle with certain things and other days we look tremendous. I think that’s just part of the bumps and the bruises that we go through at times with so many new pieces.”
Ultimately, the goal is working towards ending a national tournament drought that has endured since the program reached the national championship game in 2005. Just when it appears the Bulldogs are getting close, the rug seemingly has been pulled out from underneath them. The 2016-17 team had a national tournament feel to it by late in the season, but came up short in a solid campaign.
This is a proud program that has churned out big-time performers such as Limback himself, Folkerts, John Puelz, Devin Smith, Jon Ziegler and many others. The door is wide open for the next Bulldog great to emerge.
“Our execution and consistency of things isn’t always there, but the guys are bringing their lunch pails on a daily basis to go to work,” Limback said. “Now we have to put that execution with it if we want to do some great things in the GPAC.”
The season will officially tip off on Monday, Oct. 29 when Kansas Wesleyan University visits Walz Arena. Concordia will be at home three times during the opening week of the 2018-19 campaign.