The 2012-2013 Webster University men’s basketball team will start the season without forward Stefan Whittingham — who led the team in points per game last season — and point guard Willie Trimble, who transfered to California State University, Los Angeles after last playing for Webster in the 2010-2011 season.
Both players elected to transfer to Division-II schools, but coach Chris Bunch doesn’t look at it as a setback for his team this season.
“My dad used to always laugh and say, ‘Nature hates a vacuum,’”Bunch said. “There is always somebody that fills the spot, and I see the potential of some guys stepping up and making a big jump.”
One of those players is senior forward Roman Robinson, who was named a St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference First Team All-Conference player in his first year with the Gorloks. Offensively, Robinson averaged 12.7 points per game last season. On defense, Robinson ranked ninth in the SLIAC in total rebounds and steals. Bunch added that sophomore guard Ahmad Smith is a very talented scorer. In Smith’s freshman year, he averaged seven points per game for Webster.
The Gorloks also have a group of incoming transfers and freshmen who could impact the team. Sophomore center Aaron Griffin is a 6-foot-6-inch post player and transfer from Rust College (Miss.). Bunch is hopeful Griffin can provide the scoring and rebounding inside because he is the tallest player on the team. Bunch believes freshman forward Taylor Walton and guard Jordan Roland will both see playing time right away.
Despite winning the SLIAC regular-season title last season, Webster’s season began with the Gorloks losing eight of their first nine games to start the year. After that, Webster won its first nine conference matchups.
Webster finished the regular season 13-12 as the No. 1 seed in the SLIAC tournament, but got a wake-up call from rival MacMurray College (Ill.) in the first round of the tournament. In the game, the Gorloks were ahead by 13 points with five minutes to play, but Webster was unable to keep their lead on the Highlanders.
“This year, I think we really need to focus on these first two games,” senior guard Cody Bradfisch said. “There is a sense of urgency with us this year about getting off to a good start and constantly bettering ourselves throughout the season so that when we do come to the tournament that there aren’t any lessons to learn.”
Bunch said this year’s SLIAC conference is going to be the strongest it has been in his 10 years of coaching at Webster. Besides Webster, MacMurray, Westminster College (Mo.), Spalding University (Ky.), Eureka College (Ill.) and Greenville College (Ill.) all finished with at least nine wins in the conference last year.
The Gorloks’ nonconference opponents will also be a challenge. Washington University currently is ranked 21st in the country, and Webster will host them on Dec. 5.
Players and coaches alike agree that Webster’s biggest weakness heading into the season is their height disadvantage. But Bradfisch believes the players’ versatility will be an asset during the season.
“We have so many guys that can play so many different positions,” Bradfisch said. “I think it will help in preventing us from being out-manned or out-numbered at a position.”
Webster will head into this season mostly healthy. The team’s main blemish is Bradfisch’s rehab from a June hip surgery. Bradfisch said the injury happened with about a month left in the season last year, but he decided to play through it. The trainers didn’t think he tore anything, but after going to the doctor he found out he tore his labrum — a muscle in the hip joint — and needed surgery. Bradfisch said he isn’t at 100 percent yet, but it’s a matter of regaining the conditioning.
Robinson said he is eager to start basketball season again.
“With playing basketball for as many years as I’ve been playing it, I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter the skill of a team — it matters their heart,” Robinson said. “All players under 5 foot could beat a 6 (foot) 3 (inch) team just by having heart and will.”
The Gorloks started off their season on Friday, Nov. 17 with a loss. The team was unable to come back against Sewanee, the University of the South (Tenn.), after they fell behind early in the first game of the Cavallo Classic. Sewanee won 78-68, but the Gorloks came out strong in the second game the next day. Webster beat Rust College 100-84, getting to triple digits in points for the first time in seven years (turn to page 8 for a full story on the men’s team’s first games of the season).