Entering 2017, one thing is clear for the Fort Hays State University men’s basketball team.
FHSU, entering the 17th season under head coach Mark Johnson, is going to have to find a scoring threat to replace Rob Davis, the Tigers’ All-American guard who often times put the team on his back en route to its 18-11 campaign a year ago.
In the early going at least, it’s probably not going to be any one player.
Johnson said this year’s Tiger team looks to be much more balanced. That was evident in the Tigers’ preseason, a pair of losses to Kansas State University and University of Kansas.
“This year, it will be more of a group effort,“ Johnson said. “That will be the biggest change.”
FHSU begins its season at 5:30 p.m. today against Southwest Minnesota State University in Emporia, a two-day swing that will include a 5:30 p.m. game Saturday against Sioux Falls at White Auditorium.
The early going still will be about seeing who are going to be the players to step up. The early signs point to the Tigers’ lone senior, Plainville graduate Hadley Gillum, and transfer Marcus Cooper. Cooper, from Northeastern (Colo.) Junior College, poured in 15 points in his Tiger debut against Kansas State. The 6-foot-3 guard was 8 of 10 from the free throw line in the effort.
Gillum then stepped up when the Tigers gave the Jayhawks fits at Allen Fieldhouse. Gillum had a 3-pointer that gave FHSU a 29-28 lead late in the first half of what ended up an 86-57 loss.
Gillum ended the game with 14 points.
“Hadley has a great ability to put the ball in the hole,” Johnson said of the Tigers’ returning top scorer. “He’s a difficult matchup for his size and he’s getting better defensively.”
Through the two exhibition games, Hays High School product Brady Werth has been consistent in the paint as well, something that bodes well for the 6-foot-7 forward. Werth chipped in 10 points against KSU, then collected 14 points against the Jayhawks.
Success early, Johnson said, will be about how well a group of new players can mesh in the system. Cooper is among a group of four newcomers that includes three junior transfers.
“They’re going to have to (contribute),” Johnson said. “it’s very challenging for new guys to come in right away and make a major impact.”
Integrating the newcomers will come against a loaded early-season slate. Southwest Minnesota is ranked No. 15 in the preseason NABC Division II poll after a 28-6 season. Also, the Tigers will play Colorado School of Mines in Game 3 on Nov. 17 in Golden, Colo. The Orediggers are coming off a 30-5 campaign and are ranked No. 9 in the preseason.
“This will be a challenging year,” Johnson said, “but if we play hard, continue to improve and get some new guys to step up, we’re going to be fine.”