By: Andrew Gavin (@GBGavin)
GREEN BAY, Wis. (GreenBayPhoenix.com) – For the past two seasons, Alec Brown and Keifer Sykes have led the Green Bay men’s basketball team as young players. Heading into 2013-14, Brown and Sykes are again the unquestioned leaders on the Phoenix team, but this time as elder statesmen. Brown is a young senior and Sykes is still just 19, but the duo begins next season with a combined 2,092 career points and three All-Horizon League awards.
Brown (14.1 ppg) and Sykes (15.9 ppg) headline four returning starters for head coach Brian Wardle, who enters his fourth season at the helm of the Phoenix program. A year ago, the Phoenix posted an 18-16 record, finished tied for third in the Horizon League and was a desperation buzzer-beating three away from a title game berth in the Horizon League Championships.
Junior Greg Mays, who made 18 starts, returns to the Phoenix after coming into his own as a sophomore. The 6-foot-9 explosive post player averaged 6.8 points and 4.5 boards per game and led the team with a field goal percentage of 52.4 which included 21 dunks. One of only three Phoenix players to start all 34 games in 2012-13, Jordan Fouse returns as a sophomore. Fouse’s rookie campaign included becoming the first freshman to lead the Horizon League in rebounding since 1996, breaking the program’s freshman records for rebounds and steals in a season and landing on both the conference’s All-Newcomer and All-Defensive teams.
Other Phoenix returners include Carrington Love, who played in all 34 games as a freshman, and senior Daniel Turner and sophomore Josh Humphrey, who look to bounce back from knee injuries which limited them in 2012-13.
CAN I PLAY NOW?: In 2012-13, Alfonzo McKinnie could only compete in practice for the Phoenix after transferring from Eastern Illinois. Now that he has paid his dues and complied with NCAA transfer rules, the 6-foot-8 junior is ready to contribute. As a sophomore at EIU, McKinnie averaged 10.2 points and seven rebounds while ranking second in the Ohio Valley Conference in field goal percentage (52.4%).
FRESH FACES: Including two local products, Green Bay welcomes three freshmen to the roster in 2013-14. Turner Botz and Kenneth Lowe will remain teammates after starring at Little Chute High School and garnering All-State accolades as seniors. The 6-foot-6 Botz is a hard-nosed player with a sweet stroke while the 6-foot-7 Lowe gives Green Bay another explosive athlete and rebounder. A 6-foot-4 Canadian guard from IMG Academy, Tevin Findlay adds a third freshman to the mix. Findlay is a slasher who averaged 15 points per game at his Florida prep school.
WAITING IN THE WINGS: Rutgers transfer Vincent Garrett rounds out the program and is waiting to determine if he will be granted an NCAA waiver to play immediately or will sit out the 2013-14 season. Like Sykes and McKinnie, Garrett is a product of Chicago’s Marshall High School. The 6-foot-6 Garrett was an All-Region player at Lee Junior College before heading to Rutgers.
RESCH FOR SUCCESS: During Brian Wardle’s tenure as head coach of the Phoenix, Green Bay has excelled on its home floor at the Resch Center. Including a 24-5 mark the past two seasons, Green Bay is 33-9 at the Resch under Wardle. In 2012-13, the Phoenix posted one of the program’s signature wins, defeating eventual BIG EAST champion Marquette 49-47 on Dec. 19.
BENNETT’S RETURN: Phoenix Hall of Famer and all-time leading scorer Tony Bennett will return to Green Bay on Saturday, Dec. 8. This time, Bennett will be the opposition as the head coach of Virginia. The Cavaliers visit the Resch Center after Green Bay has traveled to Charlottesville in each of the past two seasons. Playing for Green Bay from 1988-92, Bennett scored 2,285 points in a Phoenix uniform. The lefty is also tops the program’s record books in field goals made (773), field goals attempted (1,501), three-point field goals made (290), three-point field goal percentage (.497) and assists (601).
WELCOMING WISCONSIN: On Saturday, Nov. 16, Green Bay will welcome Wisconsin back to the Resch Center. The Big Ten squad from Madison last played in Green Bay in 2009, with the Phoenix posting an 88-84 overtime victory, the program’s lone win in 19 meetings in the series. It will be Green Bay’s fourth home game in the series, including the third played at the Resch Center. The Wisconsin and Virginia games mark the second time Green Bay has ever hosted two BCS conference opponents in the same season (Wisconsin and Kansas State in 2002-03).
ALASKAN ADVENTURE: For the first time in 20 seasons, Green Bay will travel to Anchorage, Alaska to play in the Great Alaska Shootout. The tournament runs from Nov. 27-30, with the Phoenix opening the tournament on Nov. 28 against Pepperdine. The eight-team field also includes Denver and Harvard on Green Bay’s side of the bracket and TCU, Tulsa, Indiana State and Alaska Anchorage on the other half. In 1993, Green Bay went 1-2 in the tournament and finished in sixth place.
COMPETE, DEFEND, REBOUND: This signature Brian Wardle mantra was on full display in 2012-13 for the Phoenix. In Horizon League play, Green Bay led the conference in rebounding margin, field goal percentage defense and blocked shots. With freshman Jordan Fouse grabbing 8.3 boards per game, Green Bay’s plus-6.4 was more than four rebounds clear of second place. Aided by a league-best 5.6 blocked shots per game, the Phoenix was also the only conference team to hold opponents below 40 percent from the field.
IN A LEAGUE OF HIS OWN: Senior Alec Brown will be in select company heading into this season. In fact, Brown will be in a group by himself as the nation’s only active player with 1,200-plus points, 600-plus rebounds and 200-plus blocks. The 7-foot-1 versatile post player is a two-time All-Horizon League player and was on the All-Defensive Team in 2012-13. Brown is only the second player in Horizon League history to accumulate those career numbers and is on pace to be the first league player to finish his career with 1,500 points, 750 rebounds and 250 blocks.
FREE AND EASY: Led by Keifer Sykes, Green Bay led the Horizon League in free-throw percentage in conference play, shooting 75.2 percent from the charity stripe. Due to both quantity and quality, Sykes was a major reason why. The 5-foot-11 point guard raised his free-throw percentage by nearly 15 percent from 2011-12, hitting 81.5 percent. Sykes got to the line with great regularity, leading the Horizon League and breaking the school record for free throws made in a season with 159. Brown also made more than 100 free throws (109) and enters the 2013-14 season just outside of the program’s top-10 with 304 career free throws made.
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