2016 NCAA Div. III tournament qualifier
PELLA—The second year is always better—that’s what second-year head coach Craig Douma hopes for his Central College men’s basketball squad.
“I feel a lot better,” Douma said. “In the second year you know more what to expect. You get into a routine and you know more what to prepare for and things you want to emphasize. We are trying to work on some things earlier this season that we may not have worked on as early last year.”
The Dutch finished the season 10-14 overall and 3-11 in the Iowa Conference, tied for sixth place. By way of a tiebreaker, Central missed the conference tournament.
After opening the season on a four-game winning streak and winning seven of their first 10, the Dutch dropped their first three league games, suffered a seven-game losing streak and lost eight of their final nine. Six of the 11 conference losses were by six points or less, including one overtime loss.
“We were really a few plays away,” said Douma. “I don’t think the record really depicts how close we were to being top-four in the conference. It was frustrating to lose so many close games. Obviously executing in the closing minutes will be a bigger emphasis this year. We had the lead in the last two minutes of six losses last season. If we win four of those six, we are in the top four or five and we are in the tournament.”
Central returns six letterwinners and two starters from last year’s squad, including all-Iowa Conference honorable mention senior Matt Greenfield, a 6-foot-8 forward.
“We’re excited about our returners,” Douma said. “We have a great group of senior guys who are all going to contribute. They lead by example and they all lead in different ways. This year will show why we have a junior varsity program. We had a talented group of seniors last year, so some guys did not get a lot of varsity experience. But because of that program, we feel they are ready to step up and play varsity basketball.”
The Dutch welcome back a familiar face—assistant coach Joe Steinkamp. Steinkamp returns for his eighth season on staff after a one-year absence. A 2003 Central graduate, he helped guide Central to an Iowa Conference championship and NCAA Division III tournament berth in 2010.
“Having Joe back is vital,” said Douma. “I call him my best recruit from last year. He knows Central and loves Central. He knows the conference and the division. We were all new last year, but now we are all experienced and it’s going to show.”
While faces may have changed, the foundation remains the same.
“The three things we are going to emphasize this year are: taking care of the ball, playing fast and defending well,” Douma said.
Point guard—A position that does not lack for depth, Douma sees veterans controlling the tempo from the point.
Kevin Kaerwer, a 5-10 senior, spent the 2012-13 campaign at the off guard, but is set to fill the void as the floor leader. Fred Pratt, a 5-11 senior, will likely see time at the point, as well. Kaerwer received the team Hustle Award last season after averaging 5.5 points and 2.1 rebounds.
“We have a lot of point guards on our roster,” Douma said. “Kevin is going to run a lot for us, as will Fred. They will log a lot of minutes for us. Kevin’s got a ton of experience, which will be vital for our inexperienced team. He has worked harder than anyone in the offseason and we are excited for his season. Fred’s been all in and worked his tail off, as well.”
Off guard—The shooting guard is one of the positions with a prepared, yet inexperienced player as one option and multiple newcomers.
Nile Eckermann, a 6-0 senior, played in only eight games last season, but connected on 50 percent of his 3-point attempts (4-8) and was 5-12 from the field.
“Nile’s been waiting in the wings at the off guard,” said Douma. “We had a lot of offensive talent last season, so he did not get as many looks. He’s a great shooter and he has the opportunity to fill that spot. We expect big things out of him.”
Sophomore Austin Hauser (6-1), up from the junior varsity, will be joined by some freshman candidates in seeing action at the two spot. Douma notes that Kaerwer may also see some time at the off guard position.
Small forward—It is same face, new place at the small forward position, as key returner Nana Yaw Sapon-Amoah, an athletic 6-4 senior who is still relatively new to the sport, moves out from power forward. Sapon-Amoah, better known as Yaw (pronounced Yow), was fifth on the team in rebounding with 2.4 a game and sixth in scoring last season with 3.7.
In addition to newcomers, Douma sees 6-3 junior Aaron Rosenstiel of Oelwein contributing at this spot, as well.
“It will be a different look with Yaw on the outside,” Douma said. “Aaron will get some time there, also. They bring a lot of athleticism to that position. We are going to try to use him in a lot of different ways to press the defense.”
Power forward—One position with a consistent presence for the Dutch is the four, as Matt Greenfield continues to man the spot. Greenfield was second on the team in scoring with 14.5 points per game and led the team in rebounding with 8.3 rebounds per game. He also tallied 40 blocked shots, shot 47.5 percent from the floor and is a surprisingly effective 3-point shooter, knocking down 31 last year.
“Matt will stay at the power forward position as much as possible,” said Douma. “He had a great season last year and we’re excited about his role on this team. He’s tough to defend because he shoots well, understands the game and has great hands. We are going to ask a lot of Matt this season.”
Juniors Michael Iseman (6-4) and Kyle Newendorp (6-6)—a Pella native who transferred from Northwestern (Iowa)—will be in the mix at power forward, as well.
Center—Although he averaged just 11.8 minutes a game, 6-6 senior Spencer Bakerink played in 24 games at the post and was fourth on the team in rebounding with 3.5. Douma believes his muscle will be a difference maker on the blocks.
“We utilized Spencer’s defensive strength last year and we want him to be that presence for us this year,” Douma said. “But he needs to have more confidence in his offensive ability. He needs to be a good passer and make good decisions. That will go a long ways.”
Douma said that Greenfield, Newendorp and Bakerink will likely rotate time in the post and that Sapon-Amoah may play some there as well.
Schedule—Central plays a challenging non-conference schedule, including trips to Minnesota, Illinois and Puerto Rico. Opponents hail from those three areas, as well as Virginia. The Dutch play nine of their 11 non-league games on the road.
“We feel this is the toughest schedule Central has had in a long time,” said Douma. “It is going to prepare us for the conference season. Our seniors will need to step up because it is going to be a grind. I hope it benefits us and gets us ready. We need to take care of business in the preseason.”
Central begins its trek through the Iowa Conference with two home games Jan. 8 (Luther) and Jan. 11 (Dubuque).
“The parity in our league is unreal,” Douma said. “Last year was a perfect example of that. The last place team can knock off anybody on any given night. We could’ve won the league as much as we could’ve finished where we did. You have to show up night in and night out, take care of business on your home court and steal some games on the road.”
Support—In addition to the hiring of Steinkamp, Douma is grateful for the work being done by junior varsity coach Bobby Quayle.
“Bobby was a volunteer assistant last year and brings a wealth of knowledge to our staff,” said Douma. “We are very excited to have him on our staff because of his collegiate and professional basketball career and for the great person that he is both on and off the floor.”
The coaching staff also added Central alumni Mark Holan (‘10) and Justin Madsen (‘10) as volunteer assistants. Both played on Central’s 2009-10 league title-winning squad.
“Mark and Justin bring a lot to our program and are spending their time to help our team be successful,” Douma said. “We love the fact that two guys who played at a championship level at Central are willing to put time in to take our program to a championship level.”
Central’s highly regarded strength and conditioning staff is making a difference, as well.
“The strength and conditioning program has been great for our team and our guys bought into it,” Douma said. "We have a unique combination with five experienced seniors and not a lot of experience behind them, so every training session—whether that is in the gym or the weight room—is crucial.”
Douma also recognizes the support from the fans and the surrounding community.
“The support from our fans is great,” Douma said. “We love our Central fans. The Pella community loves basketball and we have a lot of alums show up for our games. This is going to be an exciting brand of basketball and the fans will enjoy it. Kuyper (Gym) is a great environment and definitely a home court advantage.”
Central takes the court Nov. 15 at Monmouth (Ill.).