RIO GRANDE, Ohio – The University of Rio Grande men’s basketball team opens its 2012-13 campaign on Friday night as the RedStorm play host to the Giovanni’s Pizza Tipoff Classic at the Newt Oliver Arena.
Head coach Ken French’s squad, which returns three starters from last year’s 14-18 team will face Bethel (IN) College in its season opener at approximately 8 p.m.
“We’re very excited to finally get going,” said French, who begins his seventh season at the helm of the RedStorm. “We’ve had a great preseason. The guys have worked hard, but we’re tired of going against ourselves. We were hoping to have a scrimmage before the season got started, but the schedule didn’t work out. The old saying is ‘the hay is in the barn’. We’ve invested a lot of time and effort into our preparation – now it’s time to play.”
Rio’s returning regulars include senior forward Turrell Morris (Columbus, OH), who averaged 13.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game; junior guard Jermaine Warmack (Orange, NJ), who averaged 10.9 points, 2.5 assists, and 2.1 steals per game en route to earn second team All-Mid-South Conference honors; and senior center Dominick Haynes (Cleveland, OH), who averaged 9.4 points and 4.8 rebounds per outing last season.
Also back is sophomore guard Evan Legg (Piketon, OH), who averaged 4.4 points as a spot starter. He shot 39.3 percent from three-point range and was named the MSC Freshman of the Year.
The RedStorm’s newcomers include freshmen guards D.D. Joiner (Columbus, OH) and Austin McMaster (Chesapeake, OH), as well as junior forwards Bruce Komakech (Vancouver, B.C.) and Karl Moore (Detroit, MI). Komakech is a transfer from Mountain State University, which folded its program during the summer, while Moore played at Schoolcraft Community College.
“We feel good about the mix we have,” French said. “We’re deeper and we’re more athletic, but our style is also a little different. Hopefully, it’ll translate into a little more success. As far the kid’s work ethic and chemistry and their willingness to embrace what we’re about, I really couldn’t ask for anything more right now.”
Friday’s action gets underway at 4 p.m. with the Rio junior varsity team facing Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy before Shawnee State University tangles with Taylor (IN) University at approximately 6 p.m. The Rio-Bethel contest will wrap up the evening.
Saturday’s schedule opens at noon with another meeting between the Rio JV and Fork Union, with Shawnee State facing Bethel at 2 p.m. and the RedStorm squaring off with Taylor at 4 p.m.
“Giovanni’s has to be happy to be associated with the classic because there’s going to be some quality basketball played over the weekend,” said French. “Bethel and Taylor are both out of the Crossloads League, which is regarded by a lot of people as the best NAIA Division II conference in the country, while Shawnee and ourself are out of the Mid-South, which we all know is one of the top Division I leagues around. Bethel and Taylor are both very good and we feel like we’re better than we were last year – and so does Shawnee. Nobody’s easing into the season.”
Of the four participating teams, only Bethel – Rio’s opening foe – will have a game under its belt when action tips off on Friday. The Pilots dismantled Holy Cross College, 121-63, on Tuesday night.
Ryan Benner’s career-high 35 points lead Bethel, which connected on 16 three-point goals and scored a school-record 78 points in the second half. The Pilots return 80 percent of their scoring and 90 percent of their rebounding from last year.
“When you think about an Indiana basketball team, you think about very disciplined, skilled kids who can all dribble, pass and shoot it and run motion,” French said. “They aren’t exclusively a motion team. They like to push the ball, score in transition and take advantage of your mistakes when you break down. They’re a solid team.”
Giovanni’s Pizza of Rio Grande is event sponsor.
“This is our fourth year of the Classic and it seems to get bigger and better each time,” said French. “I can’t say enough about Dave Lemon and Giovanni’s of Rio Grande for what he’s done for our program. This absolutely wouldn’t be possible without them. It gives us the opportunity to open our season at home and a couple of additional chances to play here that we wouldn’t have otherwise.”