It won’t take long for Casper College men’s basketball head coach Dan Russell to find out if his team is ready to start the season.
“We play six games in 11 days so we get thrown into the fire early,” Russell said. “I know the guys are chomping at the bit to play someone besides themselves so this will be a good test for us.”
The T-Birds’ gauntlet begins Wednesday with a game at Eastern Wyoming College. Casper College then hosts three games — Impact Academy on Friday, Utah State-Eastern on Saturday and Laramie County Community College on Saturday — before taking on No. 17 Salt Lake Community College and No. 10 College of Southern Idaho next weekend in Twin Falls, Idaho.
The Thunderbirds return just three players who saw significant playing time last season and all three are post players — 7-footer Octavion Corley, 6-10 Antun Maricevic and 6-8 Jackson Stent.
Maricevic, who averaged 4.6 points per game in limited playing time last year, had a strong summer and offseason and is being recruited by a number of high major colleges, according to Russell.
While the T-Birds have to replace the majority of their roster — which isn’t uncommon at the junior college level — Russell is excited about the prospects of this year’s squad.
“October is a long month and I think we made a lot of progress,” said Russell, who is entering his fifth season as head coach. “We’ve got a lot of guard depth, which is good because we’ve had a lot of injuries.”
Even though a number of players have missed time with various injuries, Russell expects the team to be at full strength for Wednesday’s game. And the offseason injuries may actually prove to be beneficial in the long run for the T-Birds.
“Chase (Winchester) was out with a foot injury so we had both Isaiah Banks and Damian Wilson running the point,” Russell said. “I think with the injuries it gave the backups a chance to see the floor and make some progress.
“We’re finding out what kind of depth we have.”
With so many games in such a short time frame, Russell said one of his main concerns right now is offensive execution, primarily because the players haven’t had a chance to work together in game situations.
But he does expect the T-Birds to make up for that with defense and rebounding.
“Defensively, we look good,” he said. “Guys are in the right spots and they know what they’re supposed to do.
“And because of our athleticism and length I think you’ll see that we’re a better rebounding team than we have been the last couple of years.”
The T-Birds went 24-9 last year, losing to Gillette College in the semifinals of the Region IX tournament.