2014 NCAA Div. III tournament qualifier
New Central College coach Craig Douma isn’t sure where the road will lead for his men’s basketball squad this season, but he promises the Dutch will run the entire way.
Central already relied on an up-tempo attack in posting a 54-25 record the past three seasons, and they’ll take the foot off the accelerator even less in the season ahead.
“The players are starting to understand how hard we want them to push the ball up the floor,” Douma said. “They’re also learning the level of toughness and defense has to increase for us to get where we want to go.”
The Dutch will need to make strides in those areas because they lost four starters to graduation after an 18-8 campaign in 2011-12. Yet Douma likes the talent he’s inherited.
“We’ve come a long way already,” he said. “I’m happy with where we are. We still need to improve but couldn’t ask for the guys to adapt to a new staff any better than they have.”
While senior off-guard KJ Cool is the lone returning starter, the Dutch have 12 letterwinners back, including senior post Jacob Winkler, who earned second-team all-Iowa Conference honors despite coming off the bench. They also picked up a pair of transfers.
Douma, a former NAIA all-America honoree at Northwestern College, compiled a flashy 268-78 (.774) record over 15 seasons at South O’Brien and Carroll high schools. Assistant Dave Stubbs also brings glossy credentials, posting a 129-20 (.865) record over six seasons at Des Moines Christian High School. Marko Marinkovich, a former Central player and 2011 graduate, is the new junior varsity coach.
The guard court is deep and got deeper with the arrival of 6-foot-2 junior transfer Branden Stubbs, a former University of Iowa walk-on and Des Moines Christian High School standout. He should provide immediate help.
“Branden gives us a lot of stability,” Douma said. “He’s a coach on the floor. He takes care of the ball and is a great decision-maker. And he really knows how to use ball-screens. He’s one of the best guards I’ve ever coached.”
Kevin Kaerwer, a 5-8 junior, came off the bench last year, averaging 6.2 points and 1.2 assists per game. He was the team’s most accurate 3-point shooter, hitting 45.8 percent in hitting 22 shots from long range.
“He might play more at the two (off guard) this year,” Douma said. “But he can handle the ball.”
Another option is 6-1 junior Fred Pratt, who saw limited action last season.
“Fred provides a lot of athleticism,” Douma said. “He’s a good on-the-ball defender. He’s getting better every day.”
There’s quite a battle shaping up at the off guard position. Cool, a 6-0 sharpshooter, started 26 games, averaging 5.3 points. He hit 30 3-point buckets, ranking second on the team.
“KJ shoots the ball very well,” Douma said. “He understands the game and brings experience from last year’s team. He’s a guy who hustles and plays hard.”
But 5-10 senior Jordan Cruse is making rapid strides, earning a spot on the varsity for the first time.
“Jordan Cruse has been a great surprise,” Douma said. “He’s playing very well so far. He’s shooting the basketball well and he’s taking care of the ball. He’s also playing really good on-ball defense.”
Kaerwer will also be on the floor.
“I like the way Kevin has been playing as well,” Douma said. “He’s a solid defender with good shot selection and he’s good at taking care of the basketball. When he gets in the paint, he’s strong with the ball and he makes good decisions.”
Up from the JV after some high-scoring performances, 6-0 sophomore Nile Eckermann could help in spots.
“He’s a great shooter to bring off the bench,” Douma said.
Nick Marinkovich, a 6-3 senior, quietly emerged as a key contributor last year. That became especially obvious when the Dutch struggled while he was sidelined with a shoulder injury. He averaged 8.5 points and 3.5 rebounds, and shot 37.5 percent from 3-point range.
“Nick brings a lot of experience,” Douma said. “He’s one of our top outside shooters. I really like the way he shoots as he comes off screens. He knows his strengths and plays within himself. I like that about him.”
Eric Scott, a 6-3 senior, can help as well.
“Eric’s a guy who exemplifies the work ethic we need,” Douma said. “You know what you’re going to get with Eric. He competes hard and hates to lose. He’s a hard-nosed player, which is exactly what this team needs. He’s a person who wants to make this team better and has a very unselfish attitude.”
Matt Greenfield, a 6-8 junior, could play either small forward or power forward. He averaged 4.0 points and 2.7 rebounds in a reserve role last year, but should see his minutes increase.
“I really like Matt’s game,” Douma said. “He understands the game and can go in or out. He can shoot the 3-ball and his length is definitely an asset for him.”
Nana Yaw Sapon-Amoah, a 6-4 junior, was a Des Moines Christian High School teammate of Stubbs and transferred to Central from Dordt College. He didn’t start playing basketball until high school but Douma said he shows promise.
“He gives us a lot of versatility,” he said. “He’s a good athlete who can defend many positions and can play above the rim. He’s continuing to get better.”
Andy Waugh, a 6-5 senior, appeared in 11 games last year.
“Andy’s an extremely hard worker,” Douma said. “He’s a good shooter who brings a lot of senior leadership. He plays to his strengths and can really help the team.”
Winkler emerged as a go-to player last year as a sixth man. Just 6-5, he was Central’s second-leading scorer with 10.5 points a game while shooting a team-high 56.2 percent from the floor and averaging 6.8 rebounds. He gave the Dutch a scare with a preseason injury but recovered quickly.
“I’m excited about Jake,” Douma said. “He’s starting to learn what we want to see from him and how to run the floor. His physical ability is very important for our team. He’s very good on the low block. He’s undersized but really knows how to use his body well, draw contact and fouls. Jake’s a vocal player and a great leader for us.”
Spencer Bakerink, a 6-5 junior, appeared in 10 games last year.
“Spencer is really learning how to play more physical,” Douma said. “He’s going to help us out. He’s gaining confidence and will play some very key minutes for us.”
Douma labels defending champion Coe as the preseason conference pick, although the Kohawks also have a first-year coach.
“Coe’s probably the favorite,” Douma said. “They have all but one starter back. Buena Vista will be very good. They’re well-coached.
"But I like to think we’ll be right there. The goal of this team is to win the conference and the conference tournament. That’s what we’re hoping for.”