PENDLETON — Not a lot of college students would look forward to 6 a.m. wake up calls but the men’s basketball team at Blue Mountain Community College doesn’t mind rising before the sun. The Timberwolves are on the court each morning by 6:30 a.m.
“Everyone comes ready to work, early practices every morning and we’re ready to go,” freshman guard Darius Butler said. “It’s been great. It’s been great."
“I think we’re at the point now where we’re tired of beating up on each other so the sooner we can get to that the better,” said Ellis, who took over the program in June. “We’re at that stage where we need a contest to see where we’re at.”
Friday’s game wraps up an offseason full of change for BMCC men’s basketball. Long-time coach Larry Bartee retired in the spring leaving a vacancy that was quickly filled — but only for a short time. Initial hire Anthony Elias spent only a few weeks on the job before moving on to another position at Morningside College (Iowa), an NAIA program.
The job fell to Ellis, but he’s far from the only new face in the Timberwolves camp this fall. His team is freshman heavy, with 15 first-year college players making up the base of the Timberwolves roster. Only two sophomores return from the 2011-12 campaign in which Blue Mountain finished 8-16. At 4-10 in the NWAACC’s East Region last season, the Timberwolves were one of the first teams on the outside looking in at the NWAACC tournament.
It may take some time for the group of young players to gell together in game situations and adjust to community college ball, but Ellis and his few sophomore leaders have a month and a half to work up to league play. The T-Wolves’ first East Region matchup comes at home on Jan. 5, against Treasure Valley.
“I learned how fast and physical it was last year,” said sophomore guard Tyler Adams, who along with forward Nate Walker represents the team’s veterans. “I think that will help me this season a lot more and help these guys because we can help them see how it is.”
Adams averaged 6.2 points per game in his freshman season, fifth best on the team, along with a pair of assists. Walker was the team’s fourth-best scorer at seven points per game while shooting 42 percent from the field.
But youth isn’t the only obstacle BMCC will be trying to hurdle this season. The Pendleton team has no true post player with Brandon Hoisington’s 6-foot-6 frame the largest on the squad. Ball movement around the outside will key the Timberwolves’ offense, a style that Ellis already planned to employ regardless of the size he had to work with under the basket. Post presence comes a little later in his priority list.
That being said, rebounding on defense may become difficult so positioning against some of the larger bodies that other NWAACC teams boast is crucial.
Back on offense, the whole scoring machine revolves around a pack of quick guards. Leroy Abraham III will run the offense from the point while Jaquan Coleman provides a more defensive-minded approach to the position. Along with Jordan Gassman off the bench, the trio will help the Timberwolves play into coach Ellis’ running style, all which starts with creating turnovers and transitioning across the court.
“I’m a very energetic guy so the biggest thing we’ve got to do is form some sort of energy and that stems from the defensive end,” Ellis said. “Pressure to speed things up and get buckets. We’ll try to make the game somewhat exciting by pushing the ball and scoring, hopefully in high numbers.”
Ellis said his coaching style contrasts heavily with the former regime at Blue Mountain and it’s helped get the young players excited for the season. A team full of shooters — BMCC has developed as a much better shooting team in the preseason than the coach had anticipated — has the players thinking toward that next step into tournament territory.
“He came in with a game plan, everyone’s buying into it, what he’s bringing to the table, which is good,” said Butler, a key shooting guard in Ellis’ eyes.
Following Friday’s game on the road, the Timberwolves will play their home opener against Gonzaga’s club squad at 4 p.m. on Saturday.
Contact AJ Mazzolini at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0839.