As the buzzer sounded on March 1 at the ACAA men’s conference playoffs, it marked more than just the end of a basketball season. For three of the Tommies, it meant their time as St. Thomas basketball players was up.
David Dolan, Nathan Mazurkiewicz and Corey Delong are all wrapping up their fourth year at St. Thomas. All three were major factors for the Tommies, right until that last game when the Tommies played in the semi-finals against Crandall University. In that game, the three made up 32 of the team’s 65 points, but it wasn’t enough to beat Crandall.
But with three of the Tommies’ starters leaving, the remaining players are looking ahead to what next season will bring.
“We’re all going to have to step up a little bit,” said Tommies guard Bradley Hovey.
Delong had the most points for the Tommies over the season, finishing with 189, while averaging 11.8 per game. Mazurkiewicz had 173 points while averaging 14.4, and Dolan averaged 10.4, with 145 point total.
But their offense isn’t the only thing the Tommies will have to replace next year.
“Corey and Dave are two of our best defenders, so that’s a big loss,” said Hovey.
At 6’7”, Dolan had the most blocks and rebounds for the Tommies, and his size will be missed in the paint.
“Dave is hard to replace, but Ben Cripps I think is going to be coming along quite nicely … He had a year to get accustomed, so I think he is going to do very, very well,” said Tommies head coach Dwight Dickinson.
Cripps, who is only an inch shorter than Dolan, just finished his first year with the Tommies and is likely to receive a more prominent role next year. Jacob Eatmon is another player who is likely to see more time, after finishing the season strong. Dickinson thinks that by the time it’s the next basketball season, those two will be better and ready.
“Their work ethic is so good that they’re going to get better over the summer. It’s going to be like looking at a different player.”
Another factor for next season’s success is the new players coming in.
“We look for players who can play on the perimeter,” said Dickinson. He got what he wanted.
Dickinson said St. Thomas will be bringing in Caleb Orser from Hartland, Sam Drummond from Harvey and Ben Gray from Woodstock. All three are perimeter players. Orser is a proven winner, as he led the Hartland Huskies to back-to-back A provincial championships. Ben Gray also has experience with success, as he and the Woodstock Thunder won this year’s AA provincial championship. Drummond hasn’t led his team to any provincial championship, but did play Orser in the finals in 2013.
Another major factor going into next year is Richie Wilkins, who started playing after Christmas. Wilkins started out a little rusty, but as the season went on he found his shot and showed his scoring ability. By playoff time he was lighting it up. In the ACAA semi-final game, Wilkins had 20 points while knocking down four of the team’s three pointers.
“He will be a great asset to our squad as well, as he gained more experience this semester and will be an impact player for next season,” said Dickinson.
The Tommies play in the ACAA, which next year looks to be very competitive. Holland College and Crandall were the top teams this year, and depending on what players stay, they could continue to be tough. The Tommies finished fourth this year and weren’t able to make it to nationals.
“We didn’t finish as well as we have in the past, but you know, it’s March Madness. We were within one little ball [being] dribbled off the foot, tied 21 seconds to go to make it to the national finals,” said Dickinson.
This year the conference had the wild card spot, so Holland College and Crandall both went to the CCAA national tournament. Because neither team was able to medal, the ACAA won’t be getting the wild card next year. Dickinson thinks that if his Tommies had won that close game against Crandall, his previous coaching experience at nationals could have paid off.
“I felt if we did get there we would have done quite well,” said Dickinson.
Mazurkiewicz could potentially still be on the roster next year as he will still be attending STU, but the coaching staff have to be prepared in case he decides to pass on basketball.
“Honestly, at this point I’m undecided as to whether I’ll be playing basketball or not next year,” said Mazurkiewicz. “I will have a heavy course load so I can enter chiropractic school the following year.”
Regardless of which players go and who comes in, Dickinson is already looking forward to next season.
“I’m anxious to get going again,” said Dickinson.