Team preview: Drake

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2012-13 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.


Drake coach Mark Phelps is hardly able to contain his excitement about the 2012-13 season. He believes his team has the skills, experience and depth to compete for the school's first NCAA tournament berth since 2008.

"From last year to this year, overall we're more talented," said Phelps, who enters his fifth season. "We're deeper. We're a much more skilled team. We're a better passing team and shooting team. We really improved our shooting. Better overall talent."

Drake returns five players with significant starting experience on a team that finished 18-16 and advanced to the CollegeInsider.com tournament's second round. The Bulldogs add eight newcomers, including Utah transfer senior Chris Hines. But Drake also loses leading scorer Rayvonte Rice (16.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.9 spg), who transferred to Illinois.

Senior Ben Simons (16.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg) was a second-team All-MVC pick and will anchor the Bulldogs from the small forward position. Simons, a 6-8 wing, scored 29 points and grabbed eight rebounds in a triple-overtime victory against league champion Wichita State last season. He missed five games because of injury but scored in double digits in 25 of his 27 games played.

"I expect him to be an all-league guy," Phelps said. "He was becoming more of a scorer and not just a 3-point shooter. He's much, much improved defensively. He can guard anyone from 6-2 to 6-9. So I'm really encouraged."

Replacing Rice at shooting guard is the 6-0 Hines (9.6 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 1.7 spg), who graduated from Utah last spring and can play right away. Hines started 26 games last year and was second on his team in scoring. He led Utah in 3-pointers with 66 and shot 34 percent from behind the arc.

"Our two best wings are Chris Hines and Ben Simons," Phelps said. "Chris performed in a big league. He's proven he can produce there, and he's done nothing but confirm that since he's been here on campus.

"If he scores 10 points a game in the Pac-12, I think he can come over and provide us with 10, 11, 12 points a game as a fifth-year senior in the Missouri Valley. I think he'll help a lot in terms of alleviating some of the productivity loss from [Rice]."

Drake Bulldogs

Junior center Seth VanDeest returns to the lineup after missing all of last season after shoulder surgery. VanDeest, 6-11, 260, gives the Bulldogs a traditional post presence the team lacked last year. VanDeest had started all 62 games he played as a freshman and sophomore and averaged 24.2 minutes a game both seasons. He boasts a career average of 8.6 points and 4.3 rebounds a game. He's accurate from the free-throw line, shooting nearly 75 percent for his career. He blocked 45 shots as a freshman and handed out 44 assists as a sophomore two seasons ago.

"Seth has the ability to score in the low post," Phelps said. "He's a guy you really, really trust down there be-cause he controls the ball. He can go on his guy and get to the free-throw line or score or he's going to find his teammate. He's got a positive assist-to-turnover ratio for his career. I'm really encouraged by having a legitimate low-post scorer."

VanDeest's return allows for 6-8, 254-pound senior Jordan Clarke (6.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.4 spg) to move back to his natural position of power forward. Despite being undersized, Clarke still finished seventh in league rebounding and sixth in steals.

"He was a great defender, great rebounder," Phelps said. "He was a great finisher. Now he'll be able to play the four spot and against teams that are bigger. We've got two legitimate post guys that are older guys."

Returning point guard Karl Madison (4.7 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 2.5 apg) will battle 6-0 junior college transfer Richard Carter for the starting role. Madison, a 5-10 sophomore, scored 24 points in Drake's MVC opener last year against Indiana State.

"[Madison] never scored like that again, but he's a really good defender," Phelps said. "As a third-year sophomore, he's a guy who really understands how to grind it out."

Carter averaged 18.9 points a game last year for Cloud (Kansas) County Community College. He earned all-metro honors in Detroit as a high school senior in 2010.

"He'll be one of the fastest guys in the league," Phelps said. "He scores, he shoots 3s, he can shoot the ball, but he's a pure point guard. He's looking to push the ball every time at break-neck speed. I really like Richard Carter. He can defend 94 feet. He's a 'next-gear' kind of point guard that we haven't had since I've been here."

Sophomore Jeremy Jeffers (7.1 ppg, 2.6 rpg) is Drake's other returning starter. At 6-6, Jeffers primarily played power forward last season but will probably fill a combo role at both spots this year. Jeffers ranked sixth all-time among Drake freshmen in total points (243) and 3-pointers (32). He led the team in 3-point percentage (.432).

"He's a versatile guy," Phelps said. "He can play the three or the four depending on if we go big or small."

Phelps expects junior college transfer Gary Ricks, Jr. to make an immediate impact in the backcourt. Ricks, a 6-1 junior originally from Los Angeles, averaged 13 points and shot 41 percent from 3-point range spanning two seasons at Indian Hills (Iowa) Community College. He was three 3-pointers shy of Indian Hills' school record.

"To me that's going to translate," Phelps said. "If you shoot 41 percent from 3 over a two-year stretch, I really like that coming into the program."

Two incoming freshmen will compete for heavy minutes in the backcourt and the wing. At 6-4 and thickly built, Kori Babineaux will remind many Drake observers of Rice, Phelps said. Micah Mason is a 6-2 shooting guard from Western Pennsylvania who has the pedigree and skill set that will immediately improve the Bulldogs.

Mason averaged 29 points a game as a senior and 33 as a junior. He twice led the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League in scoring and is the league's all-time leader in 3-pointers with 335. He played AAU basketball for John Miller, father of Division I coaches Archie and Sean.

"Micah, he's the not the typical guy," Phelps said. "He's trained by one of the basketball trainers in the country. When he comes into a workout, you don't have to talk to him about pace or intensity or effort. That's really a head start in terms of getting guys acclimated to the college game."

"At one point [Babineaux] was going to be a college football player," Phelps said. "I think he's going to have a terrific Missouri Valley career. He's going to help us right away. He's big; he's got a college-ready body. He's physical."

Another incoming freshman expected to produce as a swing player in the post is 6-9 Joey King. At 215 pounds King is a bit small, but Phelps describes him as a skilled.

"He's a guy that can really stretch the defense and shoot 3s," Phelps said. "He's totally willing to bang around the basket."

Incoming freshmen expected to play limited minutes or redshirt are 6-7 forward Daddy Ugbede, a native Nigerian who played high school ball in California, and 6-10 center Robert Puleikis, who hails from Lithuania but played at Detroit Country Day.






Drake made major strides last year to finish with a winning record and claim a first-round win in the CollegeInsider.com tournament. It was the program's first postseason win since 1975. While an influx of trans-fers mixed with holdovers can often cause chemistry issues, Phelps believes just the opposite will happen this year.

"I really, really like our team on the court and off the court," he said. "I haven't always been able to say that without lying. I really like our team."

Losing Rice will hurt. In the MVC, Rice was third in scoring and first in steals. But he also took 436 shots, 77 more than Simons and 207 more than Kurt Alexander, the team's third-leading scorer. It's likely the Bulldogs will share the ball more often in Rice's absence, and the combination of Hines, Ricks and Mason should replace Rice as a scoring threat.

"If you look at the eight guys that came in and the eight guys that they replaced, it's seven-to-one in terms of talent," Phelps said. "Rayvonte was really, really talented going out the door. That's the only guy that had more talent than the eight guys coming in."

A successful non-conference record could put the Bulldogs in contention for the NCAA tournament. Drake could face 2012 NCAA tournament qualifiers in the Anaheim Classic this November, and plays Iowa State, De-troit and Nevada away from home. In MVC play, Drake also competes with Creighton, Wichita State, UNI and Illinois State, all of which played in either the NCAA tournament or NIT last year.

"It would be easy to predict that we're going to have a really good season if I didn't mention Creighton, Wichita State, Northern Iowa and Illinois State," Phelps said. "But I think it's going to be very, very competitive, and I think we're going to have to win our fair share of close games if we want to finish in the top third of the league."

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2012-13 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.