SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – Tip off time is nearly here for Laker men's basketball.
The Lakers, under head coach Steve Hettinga, are ready to kick off the 2017-18 season. The Lakers start the year with two exhibition games, facing Cornerstone University on Monday, October 23rd and Indiana Tech on Saturday, October 28th. Both games are at the Bud Cooper Gymnasium.
"It feels great. It's getting to be that time of the year, when the leaves start changing colors you know it's time to get to work," said Hettinga. "Our guys are really excited and having an exhibition game this early kind of expedites what we're trying to get to, so we've got to be ready in these next few days."
Last year, the Lakers went 16-10 overall and 13-8 in the confernece, finishing second in the GLIAC North Division behind Ferris State. In the GLIAC Tournament, the Lakers fell to Ashland 84-81, and just missed out on the NCAA Division II Tournament.
Looking back at last year, Hettinga remarked that it was an odd year in the fact that he thought his team was capable of playing anybody on their schedule. "We proved that by going into Northwest Missouri State, the eventual national champions and playing them right down to the last minute," said Hettinga. "We had many big wins against the top teams on our conference, but we also had one or two hiccups you cannot have if you want to contend. I thought overall was a good year, we had some major building blocks."
Returning to the Lakers for their senior campaigns are Akaemji Williams, Mike Nicholson, Josh Goldschmidt and Lance Monroe. Williams and Nicholson have started all three years at LSSU to this point, while Goldschmidt was a starter last season.
On what his seniors will bring to the squad this year, Hettinga said "leadership and certainly experience. It's really tough to win in this conference and compete in this conference with underclassmen. The fact that Akaemji Williams, Mike Nicholson and now Josh Goldschmidt have all been starters, we have a lot of experience coming back. Hopefully, those can be the guys who can carry us, because that's was seniors are supposed to do. Within the confines of those guys is a very special player in Akaemji Williams, who is arguably one of the best point guards in the country, so we like all four of our seniors and expect good things from them."
Last season, Williams built on his impressive sophomore season, scoring 21.5 points per game (560 on the season) and averaging 32.7 minutes a game. In addition, Williams averaged 7.9 assists per game and 3 steals per game (79 for the year). At the end of the season, he was named to the All-GLIAC First Team, the All-GLIAC Defensive Team, the Division II Conference Commissioners Association Men's Basketball All-Midwest Region First Team and the National Association of Basketball Coaches Division II Midwest All-District Second Team.
"He certainly has a great impact on our team," said Hettinga, on Williams. "Our guys lean on him for leadership on and off the floor, and he is certainly one of the more talented players in the country, and a guy who has put in the work to set himself up for a great senior season. He's already accomplished so much, but now he needs to take that next step and lead our team...which he is more than capable of doing, and something we think he's going to do."
Gone to graduation are center Mike Smutny and starting guard Jordan Dasuqi. Both graduated with degrees from Lake State's School of Engineering.
Four freshman join the ranks this season, including guard Sam Cornett, Jr., forward Rog Stein and center Jackson Schrameyer, who redshirted last season. Joining them is guard Brandon Allen, who transferred to Lake Superior from Western Michigan.
"We love our freshman, they're working very hard. We think that they all have a chance to play throughout their careers, if not this year," remarked Hettinga. "We see a couple of them playing right away. They've really shown up so far, and it's just a matter of getting their feet wet and getting to know our system, which will really speed up their progress."
The final additions to this year's team are two new assistant coaches in Rodney Clarke and Ted Stowe. Clarke was an assistant men's basketball coach at his alma mater the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Ky., from 2013 to 2017.
Stowe was a student assistant coach at Spring Arbor (Mich.) University from 2012 to 2017, will also serve as head coach of the Lakers' junior varsity men's basketball team.
"These guys bring in some different experiences," said Hettinga on his new coaches. "They've played under and worked under different coaches and bring some fresh ideas, which is great for me, having essentially the same staff for the last four or five years. Mixed in with a new guy here and there, I always had a constant guy with me the last ten years, so it's different and I've embraced hearing their ideas. They both have great passion for the game and are great people. Our guys have really taken to both of them."
With the GLIAC seeing restructuring during the offseason, the GLIAC North Division has been reduced to six teams. Five teams from the South Division, including Hillsdale, Ohio Dominican, Walsh, Lake Erie and Tiffin departed for the Great Midwest Athletic Conference. Of those teams, only Hillsdale qualified for the GLIAC Tournament last season.
New to the GLIAC this season are the Davenport Panthers and Purdue Northwest Pride, bringing the number of teams in the conference to twelve.
"There will still be a north and south division and the conference tournament will still be the top eight schools," remarked Hettinga. "How those eight will be broken down is still up in the air, whether they take the top eight records, or the top three from each division plus two wild cards. We know if we finish where we want to finish, we won't have to worry about tiebreakers or those sorts of things."
In addition to the conference schedule, the Lakers will also play three November tournaments in non-conference play. The Lakers will host their home opener against Ashland on November 30th at the Bud Cooper Gymnasium.
Game time against Cornerstone is at 6 p.m. The game against Indiana Tech tips off at 5 p.m.
Tickets for all Laker home events may be purchased at the Norris Center Ticket Office or at lssulakers.com/tickets.