Without question, one of the most difficult things the Green Bay Phoenix mens basketball team will have to do this year is replace the production of former star Khalil Small.
The 6’3” guard led the team last season in minutes (1130), points (602), rebounds (222), assists (110), and steals (43) en route to becoming just the tenth player in the program’s Division I history to be named first team all-conference.
After a stellar Green Bay career, Small graduated this past spring and is now playing professionally overseas for Lupuan Korikobrat in Finland where is averaging a team-high 20.0 points along with 6.8 rebounds in 31.2 minutes per game through the first six games of the season.
But beyond his on-court production, Green Bay will also have to replace Small’s locker room and in-game leadership. Head coach Linc Darner says the team is still searching for someone to step up and fill that void.
“Khalil’s leadership was, every single day Khalil came to practice and he worked hard,” Darner said on his radio show last week on WDUZ. “You never questioned Khalil on taking a day off. But who’s going to step up and be a leader on the team this year, I can’t answer that right now. I don’t know.”
As point guards, Kam Hankerson and PJ Pipes are natural options to take over some of the on-court leadership since they have the ball in their hands the majority of the time. Sandy Cohen is also expected to share some of the leadership responsibilities as the lone senior on the roster and someone that has played big time college basketball.
Darner is looking for someone to provide another voice besides his own to help provide direction for the team this season.
“That’s been a thing I’ve been preaching to some of our guys – Kam, PJ, and them – it can’t always be me when things aren’t going good in practice that gets mad,” Darner said. “Every team I’ve ever had that’s been a good team or a very good team, somebody’s took some leadership. Carrington Love, Jordan Fouse, they would take some leadership.”
“And who’s going to be that guy? I don’t know if everybody’s kind of waiting to see if somebody else will come and do it. It’ll be interesting when things don’t go well when we’re playing out on the court, will there be somebody – not when we come out of a timeout – but in the middle of the court to get everybody together to settle them down. “
With several difficult tests early in the non-conference season, including games at Iowa, at #14 Oregon, at #10 Michigan State, and at Creighton, the team will have to find some leadership quickly in order to be firing on all cylinders once conference play begins on New Year’s Eve.
On-court leadership or not, Green Bay opens the season with an exhibition game against Michigan Tech tonight followed by the first regular season game of the season on Tuesday morning when the Phoenix host Division III Wisconsin Lutheran at the Kress Center at 11:30 AM.
“I think Sandy can do it some, but who else is going to be a guy to step up and be a leader for us?” said Darner.
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