Men’s basketball looks to continue rebuilding program

Joe Stuart, Staff Writer

Rebuilding a college sports program is no easy process, especially when that program is in a conference that gets more competitive each season, hasn’t posted a winning record in nine years and is compared to the other programs at their school that regularly contend for national championships.

It takes years of careful recruiting, tireless hours of coaching and practices, and the ability to endure criticism from fans, alumni and even, self-admittedly, the media.

And it usually takes six to eight years. Doubling the win total is a checkpoint usually reserved for the fourth season…Linfield men’s basketball head coach Shanan Rosenberg has done it in three.

The basketball program wrapped up the 2015-16 season on Saturday, with an 82-70 against the rival from down the road, George Fox University. That win put their final record at 11-14, with a 5-11 conference play record.

It may not still be much to look at out of context, but considering that the Wildcats posted a 4-21, 2-14 record just a season ago and haven’t won 10 games since 2009-10 under former head coach Larry Doty, it’s obvious the progress is there.

Progress is the key word. With a team composed mostly of transfers and freshmen, 10 new players combined to be exact, Linfield basketball progressed in leaps and bounds.

Had injuries not been a factor, the progress could have been even greater. But as happens in sports, the trips to the training center were plentiful. Forward Matt Woods missed the entirety of the season, and forward Austin Murray, who had been a standout a year ago as a freshman missed most of the first half of the season recovering from an offseason injury.

On the back half of the year, key starters Kyle Maloof and Mason Rodby missed games in the key moments of Linfield trying to make a final push.

But with injuries comes emergence of those who step up to fill the roles of their fallen teammates.

Had Woods and Murray been present in the beginning of the season, Rodby may have never became the rebounding force he was this season, cracking the top five in the Northwest Conference in rebounds per game several times throughout the season, pulled down a team season high of 15 in one game. Not to mention his offensive output, where Rodby shot 58.3 percent from the field, third highest in the conference.

Maloof’s health struggles gave opportunities for high scoring freshman guard Vince Romeo, who quickly became Linfield’s second option on offense.

Romeo ended up averaging 10.8 points per game this season, started 16 times and shot 32 percent from deep. Throw in season highs of 26 points, 23 points and multiple games of 15 or more, it is obvious Linfield has found its scorer of the next three years.

Romeo wasn’t the only freshman who stood out. Linfield entered the year with no true point guard, no true floor general. But in stepped Eric Daul.

At the beginning of the season, Daul was not one of the more standout recruits in the large group.

Yet Daul ended up averaging 22 minutes a game and started most of the back end of the season. Throw in an offensive punch from deep with Daul’s shooting, finishing the season at 44.6 percent on three-point shooting, tied for second in the conference, and you’ve got an all-around point guard to run your offense.

“Eric’s always had a role on this team, but he basically started outplaying other guys and really just became a natural to start at point guard for us,” said Rosenberg.

Other quick developing freshmen were swing guards Riley Bruil and Negasi Hart. Bruil often provided the sixth man role for the Wildcats and will likely develop as a shooter. Hart brought raw athleticism and energy to the table.

He was often not seen in the beginning of the year, but as his game developed, he played key minutes towards the end of the season. Hart’s athleticism will be key for Linfield next year, when they need someone to handle faster paced defenses and to create their own shots.

“We really have to keep developing and growing the players that we have,” Rosenberg said. “We’ll probably only bring in four or five guys next year, but this team just is young and has to grow together.”

With only one graduating senior, Kevin Hurley, the Wildcats will look similar as far as the roster goes. But as far as talent, next year will likely be even better.

The youth, raw skill and potential of the Linfield basketball program is definitely there. You can see it in any practice or game. Now, it just needs a little more hard work and maturation.

“I like the core of our team, it will look a little different next year, but I’m really proud of what this team has done,” Rosenberg said.

“Now we’re getting to the point where I think we can make the jump to that 15 to 20 win team, and that’s huge for us. This is what we wanted to build here,” he said.

There’s still a long road ahead restoring the program to its former glory of the 80’s and 90’s. But with the progress of Rosenberg’s third season, that road is starting to seem a little shorter.