Team preview: Bradley
Blue Ribbon Illustrated previews the 2004-05 college basketball season, exclusively on Insider.
Editor's Note: Insider has teamed with Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, long known as the Bible of college basketball, to provide a comprehensive look at all 326 Division I teams.
Sommerville led the MVC in rebounding and finished third in scoring on the way to earning first-team all-league honors. He also became the first Brave newcomer to sink 50 three-point baskets in a season (51) and scored in double figures in 29 of his 31 games.
He accomplished this while playing in front of hometown fans that remembered his legendary days of high school ball at nearby Central High. "He was in an extreme spotlight last year ... and he put us on his back and carried us," Les said. "It always helps when your team's best player is also the hardest worker."
The Braves will need even more out of Sommerville this year after losing their three starting guards Phillip Gilbert (16 ppg), James Gillingham (15.1 ppg) and Marcello Robinson (6 ppg).
"He's our only proven commodity," said Les, who hasn't worried yet about whether Sommerville will return for his senior year. "We haven't discussed it & my goal is for him to reach his potential [at the college level]."
Sommerville will have one familiar face in the lineup in 7-foot junior center Brandyn Heemskerk (1.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg), who missed the final seven games of the season with a fractured ankle.
Heemskerk, whose younger brother Brent will be a freshman at Drake, is expected to be at full strength for the season, but played only 18 games last year. The other experienced forwards are 6-6 senior Mike Suggs (5.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 75 percent free throws) and 6-9 sophomore Michael Rembert (2.3 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 14 blocks). Suggs played in 31 games last year despite shoulder and knee injuries.
Three freshmen and one junior college transfer will enter the mix this season up front.
Lawrence Wright (24.8 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 2.8 bpg), at 6-4, arrives from Yuba (Calif.) College and should bring some excitement to the court. Wright has a 46-inch vertical leap and a seven-foot wingspan.
One of the freshmen is 7-footer Patrick O'Bryant (18.8 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 3.4 bpg), who played at Blaine High in Minnesota, where he led them to the state quarterfinal last season. "He took summer school [at Bradley] and worked out," Les said of O'Bryant. "He has the potential to make a difference in the league."
Six-foot-7 freshman Lance Stemler could have the same impact on the perimeter. Stemler, who red-shirted last season at Southwestern Illinois after breaking his left wrist, shot 56.8 percent (63-for-111) from three-point range his senior year at Gibault Catholic in Missouri. "Our weakness last season was our three-point shooting," said Les, whose club ranked ninth in the Valley in threes.
Joining O'Bryant in the paint is 6-9 Sam Singh (20.7 ppg, 9.7 rpg) from Ozark High in Missouri. "He's a power forward who has good skill on the block," Les said.
The backcourt will have an entirely new look without the senior trio, but BU had to play without Gilbert and with a severely hobbled Robinson at times last season because of injuries.
The most experienced guard is 6-3 sophomore J.J. Tauai (3.2 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 1.4 apg), who backed up Gillingham in 31 games and knows Les' system. The other veteran is 6-4 sophomore Danny Adams (1.9 ppg, 0.5 rpg), who played in only 17 games after red-shirting the 2002-03 season.
The other four candidates are newcomers, starting with 5-10 freshman point guard Daniel Ruffin, who also played at Central in Peoria and led the team to a state title in 2003. Ruffin sat out last season for academic reasons, but is expected to run the show for BU this winter.
Ruffin has some offensive pop, but his strengths are his lighting-quick speed and ability to make plays. "He practiced with us for about a month and a half while he appealed [the NCAA's ruling]," Les said. "He's my kind of point guard and he understands where we need to get the ball."
Another player who could make an immediate impact is 6-0 junior Tony Bennett (19.6 ppg, 5 rpg, 2.6 spg), who arrives from Pratt (Kansas) Community College. Bennett can play either at the point or off-guard.
"He has that Chicago toughness and is an explosive player," Les said.
The third new guard, 6-5 Jeremy Crouch, is from nearby Pekin High. Crouch averaged 19.3 points and four rebounds while shooting 88.4 percent from the free-throw line for the Dragons.
"He's a multi-talented guard who has good range," Les said.
In Les' up-tempo, full-court style, all of the Braves figure to be in line for playing time, especially early in the season.
"On paper, I think we are nine or ten deep," Les said. "In the past we've had to play in spurts [because of a short bench] with our attacking style. Our goal now is to play 40 minutes."
The Braves got a head start on the season with a five-game exhibition schedule in Toronto in October. The team had 10 practices before leaving on trip.
"It's the last year [the NCAA will allow] fall trips," Les said. "It should be a tremendous springboard for us."
The Braves have one of the best players in the Valley on their roster, but the big question going into the season is do they have anyone else?
BU was not able to get it done with the players Les inherited, so maybe now that he has own recruits, maybe the Braves can climb back up the MVC standings.
With Sommerville, Ruffin and Crouch on board, the Braves have dipped into the rich basketball hot bed of Central Illinois. Now Les wants to extend that up into Chicago, where he's already landed Bennett and Rembert, but a winning season might be the best way to attract more talent from the north.
A preseason trip to Toronto should be a big boost for the Braves as they figure out how to play together. The Valley is not going to afford them the luxury of learning on the fly during the regular season.
"The incoming group has tremendous skills and talent," Les said. "But the question is how quickly can they [learn] the system."
And the system is not to just let Sommerville do everything, even though he can. "If will be clear that Marcellus is the main focus, but he can't do it himself," Les said.
If the Braves are lucky, Sommerville will return for his senior season and this year will be a nice building block for a championship run next year. If not, then Les better hope things come together fast and the team can take advantage of Sommerville's presence.
A .500 league record seems likely, and perhaps if things come together during the season, the Braves can make a run come tournament time this year.
For the most comprehensive previews on all 326 Division I teams, order the 384-page "Bible" of college basketball, Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbook.com.