2016-17 Season Outlook

Coach Brandon Nicol believes he has all the pieces in place to have a very positive year for the men’s basketball program. The team has a high number of returning players, the upperclassmen needed to provide experience, the balance of talent and positions, and the desire to put in the work to succeed. With those factors taken into account, the Trolls look to move forward and make improvements from last season.

“I believe in the team and the talent they have,” said Nicol. “It will be up to them to decide how far they want to go this year. I am hesitant to set goals in terms of number of wins or place in the standings because I do not want to limit them.”

A large part of the optimism about the group comes from the large group of returning players. Of the 12 players on the team, ten were on the roster last year.  In addition the team has experience with 11 upperclassmen and only one sophomore. Both of the newcomers to the squad are transfers, who bring some collegiate playing experience.

“We have a great leadership group this year,” commented Nicol. “Our team captains, Christian, Caleb, Jordan, and Trey, each bring something different to the team, but all bring a commitment and the ability to lead on and off the court.”

To go along with the experience, the team also has balance in talent and player positions. The have a number of scorers who can hit from the outside or get to the hoop. The guards have height that will create some opportunities on offensively and defensively.  In addition the team has good size in the post and will be able to hold their own near the basket. The key will be putting all the pieces together and finding the best combinations.

With all those factors in play the team is looking to make significant gains from their 9-21 overall and 4-17 record from a year ago. Their goal is to take care of the things they can control and not focus on the actual numbers or wins.

“Toward the end of last season we made some systematic changes and turned some things around,” said Coach Nicol in his sixth season as head coach. “I think we can carry that style and success into this year and I like where we are headed.”

The Trolls have a number of options this year and players they will look to for production. One of those leaders is senior Jordan Perry (Park Forest, Illinois), the team’s leading returning scorer.  Last year the 6-5 guard/forward led the team with 15 points per game while also averaging 4.6 rebounds. He has great natural ability and is hard to stop as he can get to the hoop as well as score from the outside.

Another leading returning scorer in the guard position is Caleb Jonkman (Gary, Indiana), who averaged 11.2 points per game. He likes to score from the outside as he shot .363 percent from the three-point line a year ago. Jonkman also is benefit in that he takes care of a lot of the intangibles which overall make the team sharper.

Senior Trey Johnson (Manteno, Illinois) factors into the top players for the Trolls. Healthier this season than last, he will be able to help the team out in many areas. Last season he averaged 5.1 rebounds while adding 4.9 point at a .500 field goal percentage and also handed out 2.0 assists per game.

At the point guard position junior Christian Cantu (Corpus Christi, Texas) directs the team and provides steadiness. A year ago he handed out 3.3 assists per game and this year has added more of an attacking presence to create more options with the ball.

The team also has a number of other returners that they will utilize. In the guard position junior Myles Birgans (Bourbonnais, Illinois) came off the bench for the majority of the season last year and provided immediate offense with his explosiveness to the rim. He was the team’s third leading scorer at 11.0 points per game.  Junior Aaron Johnson (Holland, Michigan) is another guard who can offer an offensive spark with his long-range ability. A year ago he posted a .349 three-point field goal percentage.

In the forward position the team returns four players that stand at 6-7 or taller. Junior Nari Garrett (Calumet City, Illinois) is a strong body in the post and he led the team with 6.3 rebounds per game last year while averaging 6.3 points. He will miss the first part of the season due to injury. Ben Brinks (Hudsonville, Michigan), a junior, will be in the mix this season as he has made gains each year and can use his long frame in the paint. Junior Zack Austell (Manteno, Illinois) will add valuable minutes in the forward position. Aaron Haan (Munster, Indiana), the lone sophomore on the team, will also give the team depth in the forward and post spots.

Making an impact and breaking into the starting line-up will be newcomer Juozas Balciunas (Downers Grove, Illinois), a junior transfer. He played two seasons as Weatherford College in Texas before medically red-shirting last season at Malone University (Ohio). He is a play-maker and can take over at the point guard position or work from on off-guard spot. He has the ability to score and will add to the offensive threat of the team.

Junior Erron Hall (Hopkins Park, Illinois) also joins the team this year. He played last season at Southeastern Illinois College and previously played at Kankakee Community College. He will need to learn the system, but will complement the team as he is a pass-first type of player who looks for the open man.

The Trolls know that they will have their work cut out from them this year as they once again face a tough schedule. They have 29 games on their schedule of which 21 are conference games. The CCAC slate will be a challenge with strong competition across the board.  In the preseason NAIA polls, the University of St. Francis, Robert Morris University-Illinois, and Saint Xavier University are all ranked.  The Trolls open their CCAC competition on November 11 at Cardinal Stritch University.

The team’s non-conference schedule includes a few new opponents. The Trolls open on the road on October 29 at Wilberforce University in Ohio and start at home on November 5 against Siena Heights University. In November the team will also make a trip to California where they will play Shepherd University and take part in a tournament at Vanguard University with games against Vanguard and the University of Antelope Valley. The other non-conference opponents include Indiana University-Northwest, East West University, and Silver Lake College. In addition the team will play in three exhibition games against NCAA Division I or Division II opponents. In November they play at Valparaiso University, Grand Valley State University, and University of Illinois at Chicago.