Following the loss of just two seniors from last year's 4-21 team, fourth-year head coach Edgar Wilson will have nine returning lettermen and eight incoming recruits to build his team around.
"We're going to improve," stated Wilson. "A year of maturity has benefited the returning players, and the addition of key newcomers will provide us with more depth and athleticism."
FSU's backcourt will be strengthened by the return of three senior guards, including 1998-99 leading scorer Ray Pope. The 6-foot-2 shooting guard averaged a career-high 13.0 points per game and received second-team All-GLIAC accolades for his efforts. In addition to being the only player to start all 25 games, Pope led FSU in steals (31) and finished second in three-point field goals (33).
Senior guard Aaron Nauta (6-0), the Bulldogs' leader in three-pointers (38) last year, will be counted on for his outside shooting and returns with a chance to become Ferris State's all-time leader in three-point field goals. Entering this season, he ranks fifth in team history with 117 – 26 behind all-time leader Joe Blankenship (1991-93).
The third member of Wilson's senior class of guards is Leaondre Salter (6-3). He led FSU in field goal percentage (.492) and finished tied for fourth in scoring (6.8 ppg) last season. Salter also improved his perimeter shooting, making 41.4 percent (12-29) of his three-point attempts.
Junior Donté Hill (6-1) returns for his second season with the program after benefiting from a year of experience. Hill, a transfer from Kellogg Community College, averaged 4.1 ppg.
Five incoming recruits will compete for minutes and provide depth at the guard positions. Donald Tinsley (6-4), a transfer from Wayne Community College, is capable of playing either guard position and could see time at forward. He was named Most Valuable Player at last year's Michigan Junior College all-star game.
The other four recruits, Kevin Harris (6-2), Kenyatta McCadney (6-3), Shawn Monroe (5-9) and Tony Rogers (6-0), join FSU as freshmen after graduating high school in the spring. Harris completed his prep career at Ypsilanti High School; McCadney, recruited by Big Ten schools in football, graduated from Detroit Southeastern; Monroe was an all-conference selection at Lindblom (Ill.) High School; and Rogers earned Detroit Free Press fifth-team all-state honors after helping Bark-River Harris to the Class D semi-finals.
Ferris State's frontcourt returns just two upperclassmen in senior forward Justin Hudson (6-5) and junior forward/center Dion Ferrell (6-7). Hudson started a career-high 10 games a year ago and responded with career bests in every major offensive category. One of the most physically gifted players on the team, he averaged 2.7 points and 2.8 rebounds per game. Ferrell showed glimpses of scoring potential late in the season by reaching double figures in two of the last four games, including a career-high 17 points at Northern Michigan. He also took advantage of his 6-7 frame to lead the team in blocked shots (22).
Other returning frontcourt players include a trio of sophomores – Adam Anderson (6-10), Jeff Guernsey (6-5) and Matt Miller (6-8). Anderson shot 47.7 percent from the floor and finished tied for fourth on the team in scoring (6.8 ppg) while blocking 21 shots. Miller averaged 3.2 points and 2.8 rebounds per game while compiling a respectable 49.2 shooting percentage. Guernsey made the team as a walk-on and earned playing time in 10 games.
Incoming players expected to provide support in the frontcourt are 6-8 junior Dennis Smolinski and freshman Phillip Fotré (6-3). Smolinski, who plays both power forward and center, averaged a double-double last year for Alpena Community College. Fotré was a two-time all-conference selection at Gage Park (Ill.) High School and averaged 19.0 points and 9.0 rebounds per game as a senior.
When the Bulldogs return to the court this fall, they will be playing in the newly constructed 2,400-seat Jim Wink Arena in the Sports and Convocation Center.
"I believe that having a new arena will help us reestablish our home-court advantage," said Wilson. "It will allow us to build some consistency and continuity that is definitely needed in our program."
Coach Wilson and the Bulldogs will have the opportunity to get back on the winning track with their first home game at the new arena versus intra-state rival Calvin College on Tues., Nov. 30. Other non-conference home games include St. Joseph's (Dec. 11), Grace Bible (Dec. 18) and IUPU-Ft. Wayne (Dec. 28).
"We have toughened our non-conference schedule by playing more Division II teams than in the past," explained Wilson. "In addition to our home schedule, we have challenging road games at Quincy, Wisconsin-Parkside and Southern Indiana."