Men’s basketball coach sets high goals for team

To Dave Bezold, expectations are as high as they have ever been during his short tenure as head coach of the men’s basketball team at Northern Kentucky University.

The goal of Bezold, his staff and players is to bring home a national championship. He said he has other goals besides winning a national championship, such as “winning the Tip-Off Tournament, winning the regular season conference championship for the Great Lakes Valley Conference, and winning the GLVC tournament.”

“The talent is definitely there,” said sophomore guard Scott Bibbins.

According to Bezold, it is not a stretch to say expectations have never been higher in his 14 years as assistant coach.

With a plethora of newcomers, an inconceivable amount of talent and an abundance of experience, the NKU faithful have great reason to be excited and expect a lot out of this year’s basketball team.

In order to improve on last year’s 17-11 overall record and the first-round loss in the GLVC Conference Tournament, “We need to be better defensively and more consistent on offense,” Bezold said.

Conference play will provide a colossal measuring stick on just how good the team really is. It plays Quincy University, ranked in the top 15 nationally and a couple days later faces Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, ranked in the top 5 nationally.

Bezold said, “This year we need to improve and fair better against ranked teams.” NKU had a huge win against previously 4th-ranked University of Findlay last year.

Newcomers senior center James Cripe, senior guard Anthony Teague and senior guard Steven Wright, all will play vital roles in determining the success of the team. All these players practiced and performed at Division I levels, with Cripe at University of Dayton, Wright at Bowling Green State University and Teague at University of New Mexico. Cripe is the first 7-footer to play at NKU.

“The three of them will bring a lot of experience to the team,” Bezold said.

The only freshman on the team, forward David Jefferson will make an immediate impact on the Norse. He is the highest-rated recruit in NKU basketball history. Jefferson played at Coastal Christian Academy as a senior and helped the team win the National Christian School Championship. At Lake Taylor High School in Norfolk, Va. he averaged 21 points, 12 rebounds and almost six blocks per game.

“He brings a lot of youthful talent,” Bezold said.

Not only will Bezold count on his newcomers this year, he will also depend on a core of returning players, such as senior guard Kevin Schappell, who averaged 11.3 points per game, led NKU in 3-pointers (made 43) and accomplished a team-leading 82.1 percent of his free throws.

Juniors guard Mark Hawkins, forward Harrison Morton, center Travis Rasso, forward Vincent Humphrey and forward Darral Payton will be players to watch this season.

Hawkins went 38-for-94 last season with 3-pointers. Morton averaged 5.4 points per game and is expected to have a big season.

Rasso is one of the most improved players on the team and could see significant playing time.

Humphrey started 24 games last season and made 76.9 percent of his free throws.

Payton is a transfer who will challenge for playing time.

Sophomores Bibbins, guard David McFarland and guard Mike Kimmey will provide depth to the Norse. Also, last season’s GLVC freshman of the year, Billy Finnell, will be one to watch. Finnell had a team-leading 123 assists last season and will play a vital role on this year’s team.

“Case-in-point was losing in the first round of the GLVC tournament. Experience is going to be key. Everybody pretty much played last year and has some level of experience,” Bibbins said.

The Norse will travel across the river to the University of Cincinnati for an exhibition game at 7 p.m. Nov. 1. Then, the men will travel to Xavier University for a second exhibition game Nov. 6 at 7 p.m.