Most of the names and faces of this year’s Western Washington men’s basketball team are unfamiliar.
With one minor exclusion the remnants from the Vikings’ 2011-12 national championship team has moved on.
But while the majority of WWU’s remade roster will see their first minutes this winter, the group’s talent level as a whole is undeniable.
“When you go into the season you always look at (talent), what they’ve done in previous years,” Dominguez said in a phone interview. “I think we are on par with the best teams we’ve had, talent-wise. Now we have to put it all together mental-wise. That’s our goal.”
Fans will get their first chance to see the new-look Vikings, who are ranked within the top 15 in three separate preseason polls, during the 13th Chuck Randall Classic Friday-Saturday, Nov. 14-15, at Carver Gym. Western opens the season against Notre Dame De Namur at 7:30 p.m. Friday before playing Hawaii-Hilo at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
The Vikings recruited a number of highly-touted players during the offseason, and they’ll group those players with several coming off redshirt seasons. The transfers include Everson native and former Nooksack Valley star Kyle Impero, who actually redshirted during WWU’s championship season before staring at Whatcom Community College for two years, former Rainier Beach guard Jaamon Echols and 6-foot-8 junior center Mount Hood CC transfer Mac Johnson.
“I honestly think we had a great recruiting class,” Dominguez said. “We are very excited about the guys we brought it. It doesn’t always translate to wins and losses, but it’s a good indicator.”
Junior center Blake Bowen, junior forward Chris Tanis, freshman forward Evan Scholten, junior guard Ricardo Maxwell and freshman guard Nick Velasquez are all eligible to play this season after redshirting a season ago.
In all, four varsity letter winners are back. Highlighting a group that includes Joey Schreiber, Jeffrey Parker and Mark Hopkins is senior captain Anye Turner, who averaged 8.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and had 41 blocks last season.
Parker averaged 11.9 points per game and 3.8 rebounds, starting 16 games, and Schreiber averaged 10.7 points and 3.3 boards in 11 starts, but it’s Turner, WWU’s emotional leader, who seems poised to take over a lead role.
Especially after the Vikings narrowly missed out on a NCAA Division II Tournament berth, last year’s contributors have carried the weight of the postseason absence during the offseason.
“We finished 30th in the country, and we didn’t make a tournament of 64, so I think that has given our guys a big chip on their shoulder,” Dominguez said. “I know our guys were frustrated, and I think it has created a lot of hunger for our players.”
The Vikings start the season in a bit of a whirlwind, playing five games in eight days, which includes a five-day trip to Puerto Rico. Dominguez said the start against quality competition may hinder early chemistry, but the coach believes for now he has a seven- or eight-man rotation set.
That rotation should feature Turner, Johnson, Parker and Schreiber in the front court with Maxwell, WWU’s other team captain, Echols and Impero manning the guard spots.
Even beyond Dominguez’s rotation, he feels confident with eight through 13 on the roster.
“I think we are rather deep,” Dominguez said. “I think we have seven guys that have the potential to be all-league players. ... We have 13 players, and I think all of those guys have a lot of talent, not just the top seven. I think we have a lot of depth at every position.
Dominguez feels that talent is strong enough to compete in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, but success will be based on team chemistry and how quickly roles can be solidified.
Drilling the mental side of the game will be paramount with a largely new team coming together for the first time.
“That’s something we are working on on a daily basis, not just basketball skills but mental skills.” Dominguez said. “We are constantly working with the guys on the mental side of the game.”