Erickson To Rely On Size, Athleticism For New Season
To classify the 2016-2017 Northwest College men’s basketball season as Jekyll and Hyde-esque wouldn’t be off the mark.
After dropping the first three games to open the season, the Trappers did a little soul-searching and rattled off a 10-game win streak to climb to the top of the Region IX-North standings. Head coach Brian Erickson’s squad came back down to earth a bit after the holiday break, compiling a 7-9 record the rest of the way, including a 62-58 loss at Sheridan in the Region IX North play-in game.
An 18-13 record is nothing to scoff at, but Erickson knew the team was capable of more. Untimely injuries, coupled with pure bad luck, haunted the team from the outset.
“Last year was a little unfortunate; we had three guys that we expected to play a lot for us that never played a minute,” Erickson said. “Going into this year, I think we had a great culture, but we needed to get more athletic. I think that’s the biggest thing we had to address. We had to get more athletic, and we had to get more talented.”
The Trappers lost seven players to graduation from last year’s roster, including the Canadian trio of Sukhjot Bains, Levi Londole and Jonathan Koud. All three scored over 300 points for the season, creating a void Erickson will need to fill in a hurry.
“The guys we have returning are great guys, and they’re guys who are going to play for us,” Erickson said. “They’re going to lead our team the way it should be. But we really had to get some more guys in here.”
The Trappers had openings at every position, and Erickson said there wasn’t one main focus he was looking for; it was more a matter of getting the best players available at each spot.
“We were looking for the best guys that would fit our program,” Erickson explained. “We did sign a big [man] and a guard real early and then we kind of just tried putting the pieces around it, where we thought we needed to fill.”
Erickson said the new guys have a ‘ton of potential,” and he’s pleased with what he’s seen at practice and in scrimmages so far. One of the players showing a lot of promise early is Lagio Grantsaan, a freshman from Utrecht, Holland.
“Lagio has grown a ton just in our first seven or eight weeks of practicing,” Erickson said. “He’s a 6’7” kid that can stretch the floor or post up. He’s kind of an all-around guy.”
Another player with some size is Axel Okongo, a 7-footer from Saacy-sur-Mame, France.
“Axel is our other big, and his growth since he’s been here has been impressive,” Erickson said. “Those two guys have done a really good job for us.”
Two other players showing a lot of potential early are freshmen Calvin Fugett, Jr. (of Denver, Colorado) and Umar Jalloh (Harlem, New York).
“[Fugett and Jalloh] are another couple of all-around guys. They can do a little bit of everything,” Erickson said.
The sixth-year head coach said he will also be looking to a trio of red-shirts from last season to provide a spark on the court, in Laukan Taufa (West Valley City, Utah), Chandler Ramos (Worland) and Jordan Banks (Big Piney).
“Those three are showing great signs early,” Erickson said. “Lauken has shown a ton of leadership. He’s an older guy, he’s got a lot of life experience. He’s showing guys how to be mature and make mature decisions, on and off the court. He holds guys accountable.”
As for sophomore leadership, Erickson will turn to Big Horn Basin natives Blake Hinze (of Cody) and Tanner Coleman (Deaver) to lead the way on the court and in the locker room. Hinze, a starter, and Luc Lombardy (Villeurbanne, France) are the only returners who saw significant playing time last season for the Trappers.
“Tanner [Coleman] has done a great job of being a vocal leader for us,” Erickson said. “This is his third year with us. He knows what I expect and what our program expects. Unfortunately, he was hurt just right before our scrimmages. He’ll be back in about three weeks.”
Heading into a new season next week with so many new players will be a challenge, and Erickson said the key is to get the team to buy into the system early.
“It’s a lot of changing their perspective of how things should be done from high school to college,” he said. “It’s a big hurdle to jump, but we’ve made a lot of progress so far. The word for this year is ‘process.’ Enjoy the process, and buy into the process. We’re not a great team in October, but if we can get everybody to buy into the process, we’ll be a great team in February.”
The Trappers will tip off their season on Thursday, Nov. 2, at Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne, followed by the Western Wyoming Classic in Rock Springs Friday and Saturday.
“I’m real honest with the guys — I told them I think we’re going to have some hurdles early,” Erickson said.
The coach was a little disappointed in the team’s first weekend of scrimmages, but he saw much improvement last week.
“I think we’re going to be a really good team, and I think we’re going to be a great team by the end of it,” Erickson said.