Multiple new players will be an adjustment for the Phoenix
For fans of the Green Bay Phoenix men’s basketball team the 2022-23 roster may require the players to wear stickers on the front of their jerseys that read “Hello, my name is…”
The second season of the Will Ryan era did not go as planned, and after the team finished with a 5-25 record, eight of the remaining 12 players left the program. Including other mid-season departures, 11 of the 15 players that started the 2021-22 season left the program.
Given how the season unfolded that may not be an entirely bad scenario to play out. Unfortunately, two of the players that left were Kamari McGee and Manny Ansong. Last year, the team scored 61.73 points per game, and those two players combined to score 22.6 of the points. For as much as the offense struggled, the defense for the 2021-22 team wasn’t much better, and McGee and Ansong were among the better individual defenders on that team. Fast forward to the 2022-23 team, and it would be no surprise that outside of the Dick Bennett Gym the expectations for this team are low.
In the off-season, the coaching staff set out to reload the roster and show that the past is a reference point and not a place of residence for this proud program. The Phoenix have a non-conference schedule that doesn’t bode well for proving the pundits wrong initially. While they play two solid mid-major home games against UIC and UMKC, the rest of the games are away from Title Town.
Green Bay will play two neutral site games in Jamaica against Queens and either Utah Valley or Morgan State. The remaining seven games are true road games with four being at high majors. Another is against a mid-major plus opponent as they will make a trip to former Horizon League member Loyola University Chicago.
If the Phoenix can make it through the non-conference gauntlet together and healthy they should be in position to exceed the expectations of outsiders in Horizon League play. In addition to the new players, the program has made other adjustments to bring back some excitement to this program. It will be obvious by the first media timeout on November 7th at Indiana State that this is not an extension the 2021-22 team and a new era of Green Bay basketball is rising.
With so many new faces a natural question is who will contribute? Looking to lead the new era for the Phoenix is Cade Meyer. He is the one returning player that fans have seen consistently perform. In the final 15 games of his freshman year he averaged over 13 point and almost 6 rebounds per game while shooting over 60% on his two point field goals during that stretch. Meyer has the ability to get to the rim and finish in a variety of ways, he is very likely to pick up where he left off.
Nate Jenkins is a 6-2 guard that started the last 10 games of the 2021-22 season. In that stretch, he made 40% of his three point field goals. Just as importantly, he plays the role of the coach on the floor. He knows what is going on and brings a verbal leadership that has been missing at times in the past. Jenkins exudes confidence on the court and doesn’t back down from anyone. It is uncertain if he is a starter or an early contributor off of the bench but he should be in the mix for this team.
Brayden Daily is a 6-7 wing from Cuba City, WI that was a red shirt for Green Bay last season. He has excellent shooting touch from beyond the three point-line, he can rebound in traffic as he has excellent length for his position. When he is feeling confident. he can put the ball on the floor and get to the rim. Daily has done a lot of work in the weight room and has tremendous potential. As he gains confidence in his abilities on the court, he should have a solid transition to the D1 game as the season goes along.
No stranger to D1 basketball, Davin Zeigler is a 6-3 guard that played 30 games at Bowling Green over a season and a half. He then moved on to Indian Hills Junior College, where, even with a loaded team, he played within himself and his role. His limited stats were a reflection of being on a team that was bought in and not the stereotype of a juco player trying to just record stats and get out. Zeigler is super athletic and uses that ability to be a defensive dynamo. On offense, he can get to the rim and also has a fairly steady jump shot. He has the “it” factor and can turn bad possessions into good ones on either end of the floor.
Clarence Cummings III is a 6-5 wing that arrives in Green Bay from the State College of Florida. It appears that he may have moved out of the dorms and into the weight room at the Kress Center. Cummings has physical tools rarely seen in the Horizon League. On the court, he does a little bit of everything. In watching some of his juco games. he just makes the right plays. Winning teams have players like Cummings in the rotation.
Brock Heffner is a 6-8 forward from Grafton, WI that enters the program after spending one season at Hawaii. He is long, plays really hard, can finish at the hoop in a variety of ways and has an outside shot that provides the floor spacing needed from big men in the modern game. He was a red shirt at Hawaii and comes in with limited hype but he is likely to win over the fan base with his on court contributions.
Garren Davis is a 6-4 guard that played at Loyola (MD) for two years before heading to Clarendon College in Texas. He is familiar with assistant coach Freddie Owens from their time together with the Greyhounds. Davis has size, some grown-man strength and deep shooting range though he is a streak shooter. Last year the Phoenix struggled from behind the three-point arc, and Davis is likely to play because of his shooting potential.
Donavan Short is a 6-10 freshman from nearby Denmark, WI and has a burning desire to become an impact player. He can shoot from range and has been adding the strength to his frame to be able to finish inside with both hands. He is another player that should get better as the season goes along.
The rest of the roster features Zane Short (Donavan’s older brother), Ryan Wade, a transfer guard from Holy Cross and Central Michigan, Zae Blake, a point guard from Southwest Mississippi Community College, Randy Tucker, who is the fourth returner from last season’s roster, Amari Jedkins, a 6-7 freshman forward that gives off some serious Greg Mays vibes, and Jack Rose, a 6-5 shooting guard from Westosha Central. Despite not going in-depth about this group of players, I fully expect at least one to be a major surprise for this team.
The new look Phoenix have their work cut out for them in November and December. Fortunately, they have added some players that are significantly better than outsiders are expecting. There is a sentiment that Wright State will have the best front court in the league. By the end of the season, the Green Bay big men are likely to have a say in that conversation. On paper, this is a very top-heavy Horizon League but don’t be surprised if this Phoenix team is higher up the standings come March than the 9th-to-11thplace predictions from most publications.
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