Men’s team gears up for 2008-09 season

Northern Kentucky University Men’s Basketball Head Coach Dave Bezold is on track to tally his 100th victory with the Norse quicker than any other coach in the school’s history. According to Bezold, that honor can only be attributed to the men under his tutelage.

“The bottom line, there’s not any coach made without players, no matter who they are,” said Bezold, who is entering his fifth year as head coach of the Norse. “I’ve been fortunate enough to be blessed with good solid players that want to be coached, accept coaching and enjoy playing basketball. That’s why those things happen.”

The Norse is ranked fourth in the country in the Division II Bulletin preseason poll and sixth in the Division II preseason coach’s poll.

Bezold’s team is looking to build off the success of last year’s team with the return of players from last season’s squad.

Sophomore guard Dennis Gagai, who was named the Great Lakes Valley Conference Freshman of the Year last season, is one of those players. Bezold believes Gagai will continue that success, but it is going to be tougher for him than his freshman campaign.

“They say the sophomore year is the hardest year,” said Bezold. “Teams have seen him for a year and they’ll know exactly what he’s capable of and his strengths. Dennis worked hard over the summer and he has to develop and all-around game in order to continue to be successful in the conference. We feel like he will, he’s done a good job, so we’re looking forward to having three good years with him.”

Another returning player that will be a key to the Norse’s success this season is senior forward DeAaron Williams. Williams was selected as a preseason All-American by Street and Smith’s College Yearbook coming into the season.

“He is looking at it as a challenge to get better.” said Bezold. “He didn’t expect it to happen, but of course he’s capable of it. He’s one of the few preseason All-American’s that we’ve ever had. When you first think of that, you think of a very high scoring individual, but DeAaron’s number one lift for us in our offense is defense. That’s what he really strives on.”

“That’s what he provides our team is a very high intensity, athletic defender who creates a lot on the defensive end that generates offense for us,” said Bezold.

Bezold is also looking for returning players Billy Fennell and Scott Bibbins to play key roles for the Norse. “We’ve kind of had point guard by committee and depending on what style we’re facing we use them both just as a change of pace. We’re looking for them to be leaders on the floor and help the team grow because we have a lot of new guys.”

Those new guys will be crucial in the Norse’s attempt to capture a third straight GLVC East title.

6-7 Leslie Malone is one of those new to the Norse squad. The senior forward, who transferred from Cameron University in Oklahoma, averaged 19.4 points and 10.7 rebounds per game for Cameron last season.

Another transfer that the Norse acquired this offseason is Tanner Jacobs from Kennesaw State, a Division I program in Georgia. Jacobs averaged 7.7 points and five rebounds per game for Kennesaw last season.

“Tanner will provide us with some inside strength and athleticism that we need,” said Bezold. “He also has the ability to defend really well.”

Although the addition of these players is crucial to the upcoming season, Bezold believes that there is still a learning curve for the new members of the team.

“It’s exciting to have a lot of new guys,” said Bezold. “But it takes time for them to understand how we play, because it’s not like we play a certain continuity offense where they’re like robots that go from one spot to another. It’s stuff that takes time to pick up.”

The Norse will play their debut game in the Bank of Kentucky Center on Saturday night against a juggernaut. Rick Pitino and the Louisville Cardinals, ranked number three in the NCAA Division I preseason poll, will roll into the new arena on November 8.

“The team is excited to play against any team we get a chance to play against,” said Bezold. “They’re extremely excited about the arena and the opening of it. It’s really an event, it really is. You get excited about those things. It’s going to be a great atmosphere. It’s a privilege to have a storied program like Louisville to come to our campus. It may never happen again. We’re very fortunate that they accepted our invitation.”

The Norse open the regular season against Ferris State at home on November 15 at 1 p.m.