2017-18 Season Outlook

The 2017-18 men’s basketball team is ready to tackle the challenges of the season and to test their skills on the court. The Trolls enter the season with an experienced group of players and are counting on that experience to produce favorable results. They know their schedule will be tough in the highly competitive Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference, but they look forward to challenge and to improving on their finish from a year ago.

“Our conference play is always strong, but we hope to be in the mix this year,” said seventh-year head coach Brandon Nicol. “We will work to control the things that we can and set a style of play that will force opponents to alter their game plan.”

The roster for the season consists of 14 players of which seven are returning seniors. The team also includes one sophomore who was in the program on the junior varsity program last year. New to the squad are six freshmen who will gain experience behind the veteran group. The Trolls are strong in the guard position with veterans returning to those spots. They will also have more size this year and be more of a presence in the post.

“We have a strong group of returning players with great senior leadership,” commented Nicol. “That leadership and experience will be main strength for the team.”

The Trolls, who were 12-17 overall and 7-14 in the CCAC a year ago, look to have a balanced attack this year. Defensively they will make their opponents grind to find their shots and the Trolls hope to slow down the transition game. Offensively the Trolls will work the ball around for the high percentage shots which can come from the inside or from open looks around the perimeter. With their increased size the team also will be stronger on the boards and help them control the game by managing the rebounds.

The team returns two of their top scorers from last year. Senior Juozas Balciunas (Downers Grove, Illinois) averaged 13.1 points a year ago. He also had 3.5 rebounds per game and led the team with 3.7 assists per game. The 6-2 guard can get to the hoop as well as knock down the three-pointer. Senior Caleb Jonkman (Gary, Indiana) is the team’s long-range shooter as he made 75 three-pointers behind a .426 percentage last year. Overall he averaged 12.8 points per game, grabbed 3.8 rebounds per game, and handed out 2.5 assists per game. The team will count on Balciunas and Jonkman for leadership both offensively and defensively.

Another key returner is senior Nari Garrett (Calumet City, Illinois). Garrett, who sat out last season due to injury, will be a big factor in the post. The team will look to him for rebounding as well as scoring down low. He also is a force defensively with 41 blocks in the 2015-16 season.

With starting experience is senior Christian Cantu (Corpus Christi, Texas), who can run the team from the point guard position. Last season he averaged 3.1 assists per game. Senior Ben Brinks (Hudsonville, Michigan) also brings starting experience as he was in the starting line-up in eight games last season. The 6-8 center gives the team added size in the post where he averaged 4.0 rebounds per game a year ago. 

Additional senior experience comes from Aaron Johnson (Holland, Michigan) and Zack Austell (Manteno, Illinois). Johnson, a guard, is a threat from the three-point line and a hard-worker on defense. Austell, a 6-7 forward, gives the team more size as well as additional scoring opportunity.

The lone sophomore on the team is Josh Olson (Kalamazoo, Michigan), who played on the junior varsity squad a year ago. He will add depth to the guard position.

Of the incoming freshmen Nate Hurt (Moline, Illinois) will make the most impact. With his ball handling skills and quickness he will be able to help out the team in the guard position. Terrance Lacey (Chicago, Illinois) and Oleksandr Dolishniy (Willow Springs, Illinois) will also provide guard depth. Jalyn Clark (South Holland, Illinois) and Jared Jonkman (Gary, Indiana) are a pair of 6-3 forwards that will play a wing position. Helping near the basket and adding rebounding depth is forward Josh Decker (Palos Heights, Illinois).  

The Trolls will play a 30 game schedule of which 20 are part of the conference schedule. The team opens their season on November 1 at Silver Lake College. In the early part of their non-conference schedule the Trolls will face Calvin College at home as well as take on Northwestern College (Iowa) and Dordt College in the Dordt Classic over the Thanksgiving weekend.  They will face Wilberforce University and Grace Bible College in the Troll Classic on November 10-11. The other non-CCAC opponents are Siena Heights University, East West University, and Indiana University-Northwest. In addition the Trolls play in exhibition games at Valparaiso University on November 13 and University of Illinois-Chicago on December 23.

The conference schedule will once again prove to be challenging. With all 14 CCAC schools in one division this year, the Trolls will face every team once and meet seven of the schools for a second team. Robert Morris University and Trinity International University start the season in the Top 25 of the NAIA Coaches’ Poll, but any number of teams will be in the mix for the top of the conference standings. The Trolls open their CCAC competition on November 15 at Governors State University.