Big Green open season with Lafayette
This season's edition of Dartmouth men's basketball team is green. Not only green in the uniforms the team wears, but more importantly in the players' inexperience. The team consists of no seniors and 12 underclassmen on the 17-man varsity roster. But a lack of experience has advantages in addition to its disadvantages.
Teams such as the University of Michigan, which played in the final game of the NCAA tournament twice in the early 1990s starting only freshmen and sophomores, have enjoyed wild success under a youth movement.
According to conventional wisdom, younger teams aren't self-conscious and are more free on the court. Since Dartmouth likes to play an up-tempo game and now has speedy players to execute the style properly, there is room for hope.
In the midst of a dismal 1997-98 season that saw Dartmouth finish near the bottom of the Ivies with a 7-19 record, several bright spots emerged. Returning forwards Shaun Gee '00 and Ian McGinnis '01 will headline the Dartmouth team this season as they did a year ago.
Team Captain Gee, an All-Ivy selection who lead the Ivy League in scoring with 18.3 points per game and finished second with 6.0 rebounds a game last year as a sophomore, will guide this young team through its rough spots. The 6'7" small forward has the versatility to post up and shoot from the outside, which accounts for his .513 career shooting percentage.
McGinnis led the Ivies in rebounding as a freshman last year and shot almost 55 percent from the field. Dartmouth head coach Dave Faucher points to McGinnis's determination and hustle as reasons the young star was able to adjust to the college game so quickly. With the graduation of Dartmouth's second leading scorer from last year and the arrival of a true point guard, McGinnis should be able to improve upon his 8.5-points-per-game average.
Aside from the two forwards, a number of question marks arise. Can the center position be filled by career backup Ryan Smerek '00? Which of four shooting guards will ultimately fill the job?
The most pressing question for the team's immediate future, however, will be how well point guard Flinder Boyd '02 will be able to direct the Big Green offense.
Dartmouth has long suffered from what Coach Faucher refers to as "the point guard flu." Whether through injury or departures, Dartmouth has not had the luxury of a true point guard since the departure of Kenny Mitchell '97. Last year, several off guards filled the position, and the offense sputtered.
Boyd may be Dartmouth's savior. A 5'11" speedster from California, Boyd was nominated, though not selected, for the McDonald's All-America team. He dished out 8.5 assists to go with his 16-point average during his senior year at Fairfax High School.
Boyd's handling of the opposition's players on defense will also be crucial to the Green's success.
While Boyd provides the first line of defense, this year's final resort is Smerek. Following two years as an understudy, the Green will call upon Smerek to take up space in the paint and augment the two star forwards' rebounding.
Coach Faucher cites Smerek as one of the hardest-working players on the team, and calls him "the most improved player from one year ago to now." To some, this might seem like the coach is damning his center with faint praise. But the coaches seem to truly believe that Smerek can be near the top of the Ivy League in rebounding and add ten points a game.
Filling out the starting five to open the season will be Greg Buth '01. The 6'3" guard, who averaged just under six points in 20 games last season, beat out juniors Brian Laibow and Jason Kemp for the position.
Dartmouth's consecutive large recruiting classes provide lots of fresh bodies to bring off the bench. Just as with the starters, the Green's strengths lie at the forward positions.
Vedad Osmanovic '02 of Sports Illustrated fame will vie for game time in his first year at the College. A Bosnian immigrant who made good in New York City's highly competitive basketball climate, Osmanovic has already experienced adversity. A competition to back up Gee at small forward should present less of a challenge than some of his other publicized exploits.
The less publicly heralded but nonetheless decorated Mark Kissling '02 also figures into the mix at forward. An all-state selection in Michigan, Kissling averaged 20.7 points and 10.0 rebounds in his senior season at Okemos High School.
Justin Whisenant '01 will have the first opportunity to fill in at the point if Boyd starts poorly or just needs a rest. The freshman suffered through a series of ankle injuries last season, but showed promise in several games.
Laibow and Kemp may see some time at the two-guard, unless Charles Harris '02, an all-state player from Tennessee, outperforms them in practice.
Occasionally attacking Smerek at center will be 6'11" Jay Jenckes '02. An attendee of the "Big Man" basketball camp in Hawaii, where he competed alongside such college stars as the eventual NBA-first-draft-pick Michael Olowokandi, Jenckes has made the effort to adjust to NCAA competition before even setting foot on campus. He ranks third on the depth chart at center behind Smerek and McGinnis.
Coach Faucher has said he would like to field an eight-man rotation. Whom those eight will be is still unclear.
Once the players have been chosen finally, they will also have to play a difficult schedule in and outside of the conference. Everyone knows about North Carolina's trip to Hanover in December, but the Green also has to face Ivy powers Penn and Princeton twice each as well as non-conference opponents Navy and Wyoming on the road.
The 1998-99 Dartmouth Big Green have the potential to finish in the top half of the Ivy League and to knock off a number of respectable opponents. Whether the high hopes that accompany every preseason will be realized remains to be seen.