Massive overhaul leads to lot of uncertainty for the Phoenix in 2021
In an offseason where schools were hesitant to make change due to all of the unprecedented things going on outside of the sports world, Green Bay’s decision to move on from Linc Darner following a third place Horizon League finish that exceeded preseason expectations was a shocking one.
But with an Athletic Director and a Chancellor who had nothing to do with Darner’s hiring, the school opted to move on from the coach after the team failed to win a regular season or postseason Horizon League Title with a senior-heavy roster. Second Team All-League pick JayQuan McCloud, Kameron Hankerson, Cody Schwartz and Josh McNair exhausted their eligibility while Tank Hemphill, Trevian Bell, Manny Patterson, Will Chevalier and Hunter Crist left the team for various reasons.
Now Will Ryan — son of former Wisconsin and Milwaukee Head Coach Bo — will be asked to perform a near-complete rebuild. The Phoenix have three returning players with significant Division I experience, and only two of them played for Green Bay. Fortunately for the Phoenix, Ryan is experienced in this area. Wheeling had just five players on the roster when he took the job there, and he was able to put together a team that nearly finished .500 in a very short span of time.
Josh Jefferson – Jefferson transferred to Green Bay under Linc Darner and opted to keep his commitment to the Phoenix after the coaching change. The 6-foot-2 senior averaged 8.7 points per game while shooting over 40 percent from beyond the three-point arc for the Redbirds in 2019.
Terrance Thompson – Thompson is a highly touted 6-foot-8 forward from LaCrosse, Wisconsin. He’s a strong post option who has range out to the 3-point line. On paper, a post player like Thompson should fit better in a more traditional offense — or even the Swing — than it would have in Linc Darner’s up-tempo style.
Damontae Taylor – The physically gifted 6-foot-6 wing averaged 20.2 points and 9.1 rebounds per game as a senior at Zion-Benton High School. While his offensive stats might be eye-popping, his high school coach Bob Worthington cited his defense and the versatility that his athleticism presents on that front as his best attribute. With a lack of true frontcourt players on the roster, Taylor could be a key player for the Phoenix this season if he proves he can defend post players in addition to guards this year.
Jacob Jones – The 5-foot-10 point guard from Jeffersonville, Indiana averaged 13.1 points and 5.4 assists in his final year of high school last season. He’ll likely be asked to handle a large number of the minutes that PJ Pipes spends on the bench this year.
Blayton Williams – Williams averaged 14.1 points per game last season for Lamar Community College. The 6-foot-3 guard helped the Lopes to a 16-15 record in 2020.
Emmanuel Ansong – Will Ryan convinced one of his former Wheeling players to join him in Green Bay. The 6-foot-4 forward averaged 14.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per game as a sophomore. There has been talk of him pursuing a waiver for immediate eligibility, but as of right now he is not eligible for the Phoenix this year.
PJ Pipes – Pipes was the HoriZone Roundtable Sixth Man of the Year in 2020 after averaging 9.3 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game last year. While he arguably performed better off the bench than in the starting lineup, the hope is definitely that the senior can step up to fill in some of what is lost by the graduation of All-League guard JayQuan McCloud.
Amari Davis – The defending Horizon League Freshman of the Year is a HoriZone Roundtable Preseason First Team All-League selection. With 2020 All-League pick JayQuan McCloud’s graduation, Davis is expected to take on a bigger part of the offensive workload this year. If Davis can maintain similar offensive productivity along with the workload increase, he could be in line for a special season.
Josh Jefferson – The 6-foot-2 sharpshooter should be a consistent threat to eclipse double-figures for Green Bay this year. Jefferson hit 41 of his 102 3-point shots in 2019, compared to just 17 of his 44 2-point attempts. Adding Jefferson to the lineup should keep driving lanes open for Amari Davis that might’ve otherwise closed with a less adept 3-point shooter.
Damontae Taylor – With all of the post players who had eligibility remaining opting to leave the Phoenix roster over the offseason, this spot is one of the hardest to predict in the entire league. The Phoenix only have two currently eligible post players on the roster, and if they decide to go with a traditional lineup Turkish big man Cem Kirciman could get the nod. If not, the team will play small and the highly touted 6-foot-6 wing from Illinois looks like a strong candidate for a lineup with four perimeter players. Junior College transfer Paris Taylor mentioned not anticipating playing in the post this year in an interview after the coaching change, though it’s unclear if that rules him out for this spot. 6-foot-8 redshirt freshman Jappanah Kellog is another candidate here. Finally, Wheeling transfer Emmanuel Ansong could be in the mix if he gets a waiver to play immediately.
Terrance Thompson – On paper, the second frontcourt spot for the Phoenix appears to be much more clear cut. Thompson’s talent was likely to earn him playing time even if Green Bay’s three upperclassman forwards returned this year. The lack of front court players on the Phoenix roster makes Thompson a strong candidate for All-Freshman Team honors before he’s even shown what he can do at the Divison I level.
Green Bay was one of the tougher teams in the league to figure out, so a wide variance in predictions was easy to see coming. Ryan isn’t experienced as a head coach and his team suffered a massive roster overhaul, but his one season on the job saw him overcome exactly that issue.
It seems HoriZone Roundtable voters settled on Ryan having a similar season in his first season in the Horizon League as he did last year at Wheeling. The team has some high quality pieces returning, but arguably more question marks than any team in the league. Finishing ninth with a roster that’s severely lacking in Division I experience and frontcourt depth would be an encouraging sign of things to come for the Phoenix.
Prediction: 9th Place