By Nick Beaulieu, Editor-In-Chief
Fresh off a post season tournament win and reloaded with a blend of new and returning players, the University of Nebraska at Omaha men’s basketball has hit the ground running at the Division-1 level and looks to continue their fast paced progression into the 2014-2015 season.
UNO returns four starters.
Senior Mike Rostampour serves as the Mavs lone returning starter in the post. The aggressive “junk yard dog” ended the season on a high note, cracking the record books with his 21 rebound effort against North Dakota in the Mavs’ College Insider.com Tournament win.
UNO graduated rim protectors John Karhoff and Matt Hagerbaumer, but Wichita State transfer Jake White, who sat out the entirety of last season, is expected to fill the shoes left behind and some.
“I think Jake White makes us a lot better in what he can do,” junior guard Marcus Tyus said. “He can step out and shoot the ball, he can play wing side, he can guard. It’s going to help our game out a lot.”
In the backcourt, CJ Carter, Marcus Tyus and Devin Patterson all return from last year.
Carter, the Omaha native who can dazzle through scoring or distribution, will have the ball in his hands more with the departures of Karhoff and guard Justin Simmons.
Tyus has elevated his game year after year and should continue to have moments where takes over the game, like his 24 point effort last year vs. South Carolina State.
“I think Marcus has taken another step,” Hansen said. “The thing about Marcus is he’s always been talented and he’s always kind of picked his spots on when he’s been on the floor off the floor started not started but I think his consistency has gone up.”
One exciting prospect for the Mavs is freshman Tre’Shawn Thurman, well known throughout the state for his time as an Omaha Central Eagle.
At 6-foot-7 with a reliable outside shot, Thurman has the raw talents to be one of the Summit League’s best. Time will tell how quick the freshman can adjust to the college game.
“I think Tre’Shawn has adjusted very well. He’s picked up the speed,” Hansen said. “I think he’s very savvy in a lot of areas. He’s brought some toughness, he has brought some skill, he brings some strength and athleticism maybe to that four that we haven’t had before.”
UNO also welcomes two junior transfers, guards Tim Smallfoot and Randy Reed.
Smallfoot comes from Murray State College, where he scored 16 points and had four assists per game. Reed had 21 points and seven boards a game along with a 49 percent field goal percentage last season for St. Louis Community College .
“Randy Reed and Tim Smallwood are going to come out with fireworks, and [people] won’t even know what to expect,” Rostampour said. “I think that’s when players play their best. Knowing these guys, they’re going to give everything they’ve got.”
UNO’s nonconference schedule boasts a laundry list of tough teams on the road: Marquette, Nebraska and Kansas State are first to mind, but the Mavs also travel to Seattle and Air Force.
“I like it. It’s going to test us,” Hansen said. “Obviously the Nebraska game has drawn a lot of attention, but we have games before that. We’re going to have a lot of challenges, but I think it’s going to challenge us to get ready for the Summit League.”
Although it’s often been seen as hockey’s new arena, Maverick basketball will also have a new place to call home next year. Hansen said it has already made a difference in recruitment. “The new building has helped. It’s really opened up recruiting for us,” Hansen said. “That really starts paying off.”
Keys to UNO making the next step: knocking off at least one of their big nonconference foes, and competing for a top three spot in the Summit League.
What makes this team different than the Mavs of last year, Rostampour and the rest of the team continued to stress is the collective competitive nature shared.
“More specifically, I just think it’s our personalities in our locker room. I think the new guys have been bought into the system so well that we’re all brothers on the court and off the court,” Rostampour said. “If we’re down a couple of points, we know what we need to do to get a great possession and get a bucket, and I think we’ve got the guys that will get a bucket when we need a bucket.”
Although Rostampour may be less of a bruiser and more of an all-around center for the Mavs this year, the same fire continues to burn within him.
“We need an instate win- that would change everything,” Rostampour said. “Some people still think this is a D-II team.”
Even though the Mavs have one year before they have a shot at the big dance, Rostampour and company are equally fueled by non-NCAA post season opportunities.
“I kind of think it’s weird how people say we’re not playing for anything. We’re always playing for something, I’m playing to win a championship if it’s the CIT or CBI that’s fine by me,” Rostampour said. “It’s a trophy, it’s a championship. But first off, I’m here to win the Summit League.”