PtP’s position by position series takes a glance at the Green Bay Phoenix roster for the 2022/2023 season, starting with the front court.
There weren’t too many bright spots from Green Bay’s abysmal 2021/2022 season in which the team finished with just four wins against Division I competition on its way to a 5-25 overall record.
After a decent start to the season – not record-wise, but the team was in almost every game and lost three of their first five games by a combined nine points – things seemed to get sideways down the stretch as the Phoenix endured a stretch of seven losses in a row by at least 9 points during an 11-game losing streak.
Green Bay struggled offensively (345th in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency) and defensively (313th in defensive efficiency) all season long but one bright spot was the development of sophomore big man Cade Meyer. The 6’8” forward from Monroe, Wisconsin is one of four returning players from last season as the team looks to turn the page from one of the worst seasons in program history.
And he is certainly a foundational piece to build around. He started all 30 games as a true freshman and averaged 9.1 points and 4.3 rebounds per game en route to being named to the Horizon League’s All-Freshman Team. He only got better as the season went along reaching double figures in scoring in 11 of Green Bay’s final 14 regular season games and averaging 13.4 points and 5.9 rebounds per game during that stretch shooting an efficient 51.8% from the floor.
The face of the program, Meyer will play a huge role again this season and could potentially make the jump to an all-conference caliber player. He will look to build off an impressive freshman campaign which saw him finish in the top 20 in the conference in quite a few stats including offensive rebound percentage (16th), 2-point field goal percentage (17th), total rebound percentage (18th), and free throw attempts (20th).
It will be important to pair him with another big man that he can work together with – especially on defense – an option that was lacking a bit last season. A big reason the Phoenix were so poor defensively was that 40% of opponents’ attempts came around the rim according to Hoop-Math.com, ranking 307th in the country. That led to opposing teams shooting a blistering 46.8% from the floor overall last season which ranked 332nd out of 358 Division I teams.
Brock Heffner – a 6’8” transfer from Hawaii – is likely to get the first crack at minutes next to Meyer. The redshirt freshman from Grafton, Wisconsin sat out last season at Hawaii but apparently has flashed his potential at practice so far during the preseason. Plus, he is already very familiar with playing next to Meyer.
“We really liked him when he played AAU,” head coach Will Ryan said during a recent appearance on the Phear the Phoenix Podcast. “He played on the same team as Cade Meyer and they’re really good together, they look for one another. They’re both big, strong kids.”
Heffner also could help bring a tenacity and aggressiveness on both ends of the floor that might have been missing at times last season, particularly on the glass. Green Bay finished towards the bottom of the Horizon League and 271st overall in the NCAA in rebound margin a season ago.
“He mixes it up,” Ryan said. “He’s a tough kid, he’ll stick his nose in there.”
Whether it is attacking the rim, shooting from the outside – he knocked down nearly 35% of his three-point attempts during his senior season at Grafton – or crashing the glass, Heffner should be a solid addition to the Green Bay front court.
“[He] rebounds well, he’s skilled, passes it well, shoots it,” Ryan said. “We’re excited about him because he’ll have four years with us.”
Another player likely to play a significant number of minutes this season is true freshman Donavan Short. The highly regarded recruit from just down the road in Denmark, Wisconsin checks a lot of boxes and could potentially help cover a lot of deficiencies from last season.
At 6’10”, he provides Green Bay with a true rim protector defensively that has been sorely lacking the past few seasons. That kind of coverage helps to mask a lot of breakdowns when a player is beat off the dribble or a player is late to help on defense. Short also provides a bigger body to matchup against some of the talented bigs that the Phoenix will face in the Horizon League and could help provide some mismatches on offense if he is on the floor at the same time as Meyer.
Offensively, he can use his size to finish around the rim but can also help space the floor by knocking down outside shots, a critical skill set in Green Bay’s offense where big men often find themselves out on the perimeter. He made 38.5% of his three-point attempts at Denmark last season and if he can knock them down consistently at the Division I level it would go a long way towards opening up the floor by drawing opposing big men away from the basket and creating some driving lines for GB’s guards.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see a gradual increase in Short’s minutes as the season progresses, much like Kamari McGee a season ago where he contributes off the bench to start the season and eventually plays his way into the starting lineup as the season goes along. Even if he doesn’t crack the starting five, with not much front court depth on the squad he could play starters minutes anyways. It is definitely a good problem to have with a 6’10” three-star recruit in the fold.
Finally, another true freshman looking to crack the rotation is Amari Jedkins. The 6’8” forward from Racine, Wisconsin is a true wildcard this season and may end up taking a redshirt season to get stronger, a decision Ryan ultimately leaves up to the player.
“He’s got a very bright future,” Ryan said on the PtP Podcast. “Not sure how many minutes he’ll play as a freshman or if maybe he decides to redshirt, that could definitely be a possibility.”
If Jedkins decides to not use a redshirt year this season he could be used in a variety of ways due to his size and versatility. He is a high-energy player that has explosive athleticism that would be beneficial on both ends of the court.
He also showed the ability to keep defenses honest by stepping out and knocking down the outside shot.
“He’s got a very high ceiling,” Ryan said. “He’s a kid who can play probably the three through the five. His ball skills are getting much better, he’s shooting it pretty well. He’s got a motor.”
“He’s long and athletic and he defends. He can defend the one through the five, so we’re excited about him.”
It is a bit weird to think that a position group with so much inexperience – the four bigs consist of a sophomore, a redshirt freshman, and two true freshman – could be one of the strengths of this Green Bay team. But overall it is a group that is more athletic, more aggressive, and a better systemic fit with players that can step outside and knock down shots compared to a season ago.
There could be some growing pains but overall this should be a group that progresses as the season goes along.