Heavy roster turnover isn't easy to deal with. Dan Weisse is well-equipped to explain why.
In Weisse's second season as the head coach of the Minnesota Crookston men's basketball team, the Golden Eagles' roster consisted of 10 newcomers and just four returners. They went 3-24.
So that doesn't exactly portend well for Weisse's seventh season, in which UMC will bring in 11 new players to five returners. But the context of these massive recruiting classes couldn't be more different.
Weisse's first UMC squad had seven seniors, and he wanted to respect them and let them graduate. This meant that his Year Two would be, for all intents and purposes, his Year One. He'd honor his upperclassmen, and then begin the hard work of building a program from scratch, primarily through bringing in high school players. Relying too heavily on junior college transfers would just lead to more turnover.
Many of those players recruited out of high school have graduated now. Chase Knickerbocker, Gable Smith, Aaron Hollcraft, Darin Viken a season ago. Malcolm Cohen, Javier Nicolau Chase Johnson and NSIC all-time scoring leader Harrison Cleary this spring. That's eight players who spent at least three years in the program.
So for the first time since that second year, Weisse was faced with a rebuilding job this offseason. But he knew he couldn't approach it the same as he did five years ago.
"I didn't wanna be young again," he explained last week. "That's hard to do in this league."
Out of the Golden Eagles' 11 newcomers, five are true freshmen. That's down from six out of 10 in 2015-16. And while those freshmen were expected to contribute right away, Weisse hopes that the mix of JUCO transfers and returning contributors can lead the way.
"You don't have to speed these freshmen along," Weisse said. "They're gonna compete against really good players (in practice), and we're gonna be able to play them when they're more ready."
None of this is to say that Weisse won't try to get his best players on the court as much as possible. Even if it's Josh Dilling, a freshman from Weisse's hometown of Oshkosh, Wisc. who can score and defend from point guard to small forward in UMC's system. Or Fargo big man Hunter Lyman, who might be the team's only true center. Or Rafael Carton, a forward who has good size and inside-outside scoring potential.
But the 2020-21 Golden Eagles won't necessarily be their team. That role is more likely to fall to players like returning starters Brian Sitzmann and Ibu Jassey Demba. Or high-scoring JUCO swingmen Leonard Dixon and Ethan Channel. Or DI transfer point guard Georges Darwiche, from Siena. They'll be charged not with building something that's already been built, but making an immediate impact instead.
"It's hard to be young and have 18-year-olds play against 22-year-olds, so we went with a mix of both," Weisse said. "It's all talk — recruiting's one thing but playing's another — but I'm really excited, not just with the talent they have but the people they are."
Obligatory COVID-19 section
For the time being, Weisse is planning on having his players back in the fall. He's aware, of course, that it's not his decision to make.
Spring workouts are out of the question, seeing as the Golden Eagles are dispersed throughout the country and quarantined at home. Gyms are closed. Some players have access to parks in their area or a driveway hoop, but that's hardly the same as a workout in a gym.
Weisse doesn't see the COVID-19 pandemic as a competitive disadvantage — everyone else is in the same boat. But there are particular challenges for UMC that go beyond the loss of practice or the resulting uncertainty.
For one, the Golden Eagles have six international players on their roster. Jassey Demba and Morgan Carter are from the United Kingdom, Darwiche and George Blaj-Voinescu are from Romania, Carton is from Spain and Silas Xia is from China.
International travel is an obvious question — Carter, who played this season at Hillsborough CC in Florida, recently flew home with his parents, while Darwiche is hoping to go home at some point — but equally as pressing is the matter of student visas, which multiple players are unable to obtain due to their country's embassies being shut down.
"That is a concern," Weisse said. " ... These guys are on it. They've done everything they've needed to do, but if something doesn't get done, it's out of their control. That's all we can do."
The sheer number of new faces presents a challenge for the Golden Eagles, too. Developing chemistry with limited time in-person or on the court together is hard enough as it is. But Weisse believes that his team is handling these issues as well as they can — for now.
"Players have a group Snapchat going, communicating with each other already," he said. "That's something we haven't had in the past, that I'm aware of. Players are already communicating, bonding, talking — if we do start on time, that's only gonna help."
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