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Western Michigan Christian Boys Basketball Preview

Duncan MacLean • Dec 3, 2018 at 5:15 PM

The Western Michigan Christian boys basketball team has a fair share of returning varsity players for the 2018-19 season, after falling just short of a Lakes Eight Conference crown last season.

Two returning captains and three of their top four scorers will lead the way in their quest to top Ludington, along with the promising help of a few youngsters stepping into starting roles or their first minutes on the varsity squad altogether.

Their 12-9 overall campaign last season featured a few marquee wins, including their first over Muskegon Heights since the 1999 season and a road victory at Ludington at the end of the year. Head coach Kurt Gruppen credits the tenacity of his squad for keeping them in high-pressure games and expects that spirit to grow this year with the heart and soul of that tough team coming back.

Ludington figures to be tops in the conference again based on returning talent, but the Warriors' scoring prowess and overall team speed put them in the conversation. With a little development on the perimeter and the emergence of a point guard to fill the shoes of Tyler Vanbeek, it seems the sky is the limit for this tested group of players.

WHO'S BACK

Senior captains Tyler Somers and Brant Zeerip, senior Hayden Hubers, junior Zack Butkis and Nolan Fairfield.

Returning to lead the Warriors are two of their captains from a year ago in Somers and Zeerip, both of whom, along with Hubers, finished near the top of their scoring and rebounding stat lines. Butkis is set to take over point guard duties from the graduated Vanbeek, while Goorman holds a promising outside shot as a youngster in his second year on the varsity team.

"Ball handling is the main strength we have to replace," Gruppen said of the departed Vanbeek. "He was just a solid ball handler. He really didn't turn it over much. He also shot around 40 percent from the three-point line, so those two abilities will be missed.

"Zack Butkis is a returner from last year and will fill that point guard role well. We have two captains returning who were two of leading scorers and rebounders, as well. Hayden Hubers is another returner that was near the top in scoring and rebounding. Those are guys we will rely on to be catalysts both offensively and defensively."

WHO'S NEW

Nick Moser, Luke Moorhead, Brevin Byrne, Jake Betten, Michael Kamps and Kellen Mitchell.

The 2017-18 junior varsity Warriors are well represented on this year's varsity squad and will be called upon to bring their scoring potential up to the next level.

Moser, Byrne and Betten routinely finished atop the scoring sheet for the JV team last season, with Kamps and Moorhead developing into scoring threats toward the end of the season, as well.

The youngsters bring a healthy helping of length to the roster, as well, with Betten, Mitchell and Kamps standing among the tallest players on the roster.

Varnado and Mitchell will make their high school basketball debuts as varsity players, representing tremendous potential on the outside once they grow into the pace of the varsity game.

Gruppen is excited about his newcomers' scoring threat, particularly from the outside, as they search for a new knockdown three-point shooter.

"Right now, we are kind of point guard by committee. We are still figuring that out," he said. "We have a couple of freshmen up who have great basketball skill and can hit from the outside a bit, so we would love to see them develop.

"I'd like to develop to be able to hit some more perimeter shots, I'd love to be a three-point shooting team."

KEY GAMES

Calvin Christian (12/4), at Muskegon Catholic Central (12/7), Ludington (2/15).

Despite finishing near the top of the conference, the Warriors know their league schedule is no joke. Rivalry games early in the season on the road will set the tone for the year, while an always electric matchup with Ludington awaits in the final week of the season. Outside of conference play, Calvin Christian will pay a visit to WMC in an early test.

"For non-conference games, we have Calvin Christian here at home early on," Gruppen said. "I don't quite know the history but feel like we haven't beaten them in a while, and our kids would like to get one over them.

"We did fairly well in the conference. You go to Muskegon Catholic and always have to just hang on and grind it out. Orchard View beat us at home last season, so that was a game we feel like we were in a position to win. There is no just show up and win games in the conference. They are all important.

"Ludington has the best player in the conference, and I think they are the favorite, but our kids are ready to battle them. Our guys coming back have been in big games. They know what it takes. They love the big moment and have a lot of fun with that.

"I think when this team gets going and starts playing well and has bought in defensively and works together on offense to take good shots and take care of the basketball, we can beat a lot of teams on our schedule."

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