After narrowly missing a bid to the 2013 NCAA Midwest Regional tournament, Lewis University head men's basketball coach Scott Trost and his troops have some unfinished business ahead of them.
"Our guys have something to prove (after missing the tournament)," Trost said. "We learned that you can't take any nights off and you can't take anything for granted. "
The Flyers enter the 2013-14 campaign as one of the 'youngest' experienced squads in the Great Lakes Valley Conference. Lewis has only one senior on the squad, while the rest of the junior ladened team has accounted for 168 starts.
"There's no substitute for experience and hopefully our guys can use last year's disappointment as motivation," Trost said. "Our guys are looking forward to the challenge, because the GLVC is the toughest Division II league in America and I think we can be very successful as a team."
The most experienced of the bunch is junior shooting guard Ryan Jackson (Bolingbrook, Ill./Riverside-Brookfield). Jackson has started all 56 games that he has appeared in a Flyer uniform and has a career average of 15.0 points and 3.3 rebounds-per-game. As a sophomore, Jackson averaged 16.9 points-per-game, on his way to All-GLVC First Team and NABC All-Midwest District Second Team accolades.
Entering the 2013-14 season, Jackson was named to both the Sporting News and Division II Bulletin Preseason Honorable Mention All-America teams.
"(Ryan) is obviously a focal point of teams coming in here and playing us or wherever we go," Trost said. "He's got to elevate and understand his game as far as making teammates around him better.
"Ryan has worked awfully hard to get to where he is (today)," Trost continued. "I expect (Ryan) to be one of the better guards in our league, and if that's the case, the country too."
Another junior that started immediately upon his arrival was forward Julian Lewis (Flossmoor, Ill./Homewood-Flossmoor). Lewis has started 51 of the 54 games that he has appeared in, and has averaged 7.7 points and 5.6 rebounds-per-game for the Flyers. Last season, Lewis was seventh in the GLVC in rebounding, grabbing 6.3 caroms-per-game and was named to the All-GLVC Defensive Team.
Trost believes that Lewis has made the biggest jump as an individual following the off-season and during preseason camp.
"Julian Lewis (Flossmoor, Ill./Homewood-Flossmoor) has been unbelievable, he's playing with great confidence and a little bit of swagger," Trost said. "I think he has the ability to be the best rebounder in our league on both ends."
Trost has seen an improvement in Lewis' offensive play as well.
"He's shooting the ball well, creating off the bounce and getting to the rim," Trost said. "He's just doing a lot of really good things on the offensive end."
Lewis junior Jeff Jarosz (Lyons, Ill./Morton) started all 28 games for the Flyers at point guard and immediately made his presence felt. Jarosz averaged 9.1 points-per-game and dished out a team-best 2.7 assists-per-game. Jarosz is complimented by fellow junior guard Gabe Williams (Chicago, Ill./Farragut), who averaged 4.7 points and 0.9 assists-per-game in 28 games off the bench for the Flyers last season. Williams has the ability to play both the '1' and the '2' positions for the Flyers.
Page 2 of 3 - "They are both good players," Trost said of Williams and Jarosz. "Gabe has more of a scorers mentality than Jeff does.
"Jeff gets everybody involved, while Gabe shoots it well and really scores it," Trost continued. "I'm feeling really good about where we are at that spot."
One of Trost's most versatile players is senior guard Nick Valla (Tinley Park, Ill./Marist). Valla has the ability to play anywhere from point guard all the way down to the power forward position. In two seasons in a Lewis uniform, Valla has averaged 5.4 points and 1.4 rebounds-per-game in 57 contests.
"Nick brings a toughness (to the team)," Trost said. "He's a great mid-range shooter with a lot of experience and confidence; and we will expect him to provide great leadership to this team."
Sophomore center Kyle Nelson (St. Charles, Ill./St. Charles North) had an outstanding rookie campaign for Lewis, as he started all 28 games and averaged 7.9 points and 3.6 rebounds per game, while adding 42 blocked shots – which was second overall in the GLVC. The St. Charles, Ill., native shot a team-best 57.7% (90-for-156) which was good for sixth overall in the GLVC.
"(Kyle) is kind of an unorthodox player who has a European look to his game," Trost said. "He is kind of sneaky, tricky and he shoots it well facing the basket.
"He has gotten stronger since last year and that experience can do nothing but help him," Trost continued. "We're looking for him to improve on his numbers and give us more."
Another freshman that gained valuable experience was 6-foot-8 center Brad Foster (New Lenox, Ill./Lincoln-Way Central). Foster appeared in all 28 games off of the bench for Lewis and averaged 3.1 points and 2.1 rebounds in 13 minutes per contest.
"(Brad) has come back stronger and has made himself a better player," Trost said. "He needs to keep working, and needs to play with a little more of a sense of urgency at times, but certainly had some games for us last year where he looked unbelievable.
"We're anxious to see how Brad develops here."
Stretching the defense for the Flyers will be junior forward David Niggins (Naperville, Ill./Naperville Central) and freshman guard Capel Henshaw (Harrisburg, Ill./Harrisburg) as both have the ability to hit the three-pointer. Last season, Niggins shot 42.3% (22-for-52) from long range and averaged 3.8 points and 3.6 rebounds-per-game in 28 contests.
"When David is playing well, he makes us a very difficult team to defend," Trost said. "He plays a stretch '4' for us and he has developed his skills in fitting in what we need him to do.
"We are looking for David to be a major contributor to our success this season."
Henshaw, a 6-foot-2 guard, helped Harrisburg to the IHSA Class 2A State Championship in 2013 and left as the school's all-time leading scorer.
Page 3 of 3 - "Capel is going to be a good player," Trost said. "I thought he was as good of a shooter as I saw on last year's AAU circuit.
"He needs to develop certain areas of his game - and he will - because he is as hard of a worker as we have on our team."
Redshirt freshman Jared Ellis (Marion, Ill./Marion), a 6-foot-8, 210-pound center, hopes to make an impact for the Flyers in his rookie season.
"(Jared) is still developing and is very raw but there's a lot of things he does that you can't teach," Trost said. "He's athletic, has great timing and can be a defensive presence (for our team).
"His offensive skills are developing and I look for Jared to develop into a very good post player in the GLVC."
The Flyer frontline will be bolstered by the return of junior Mantas Dubauskas (Naperville, Ill./St. Joseph) and sophomore David Heckman (Greenwood, Ind./Roncalli).
Dubauskas, whose career has been plagued by injury, has appeared in 25 games in two seasons for the Flyers.
"Mantas is going to bring you great energy and toughness each night out," Trost said. "He brings great desire, determination and he's a great team player."
Heckman saw action in 12 games off the bench for the Flyers as a freshman last year and could see time at either forward position.
"Heckman has developed and worked a lot on his perimeter skills," Trost said. "He's fighting for time with a lot of guys right now – but he's certainly come back better.
"He's a great kid and a great student," Trost continued. "He's a team player who never complains and does whatever you ask of him."
Barring unforeseen circumstances or an injury, Trost is looking to redshirt sophomore forward Paul Baumgart (Canton, Mich./Canton). As a freshman, Baumgart appeared in 10 games for the Flyers and averaged 2.3 minutes-per-contest.
"I think (Paul) can be a really good player in our league but it's going to be hard for him to get a ton of minutes right now," Trost said.
Like any other basketball coach in America, Trost knows that the Flyers need two things to be successful.
"We have worked hard to get to where were at and I think we have hung our hat on being really good on the defensive end," Trost said. "On the same token – we need to take care of the ball on the offensive end.
"There's a fine line again between winning and losing and we need to make sure we execute down the stretch and make some plays," Trost continued. "If we do those things then we have a chance to win a lot of games."