The Mastodons look to rebuild after a 17-15 campaign last season
To say that the 2022-23 season was below expectations for Purdue Fort Wayne is an understatement. Having returned nearly all of their starters from the previous year, the Mastodons were selected by many to repeat as Horizon League regular season champions.
Instead, what happened was a 17-15 season, and a 9-11 conference record that. In years past, that would have been good enough to finish in the middle of the league pack. However, thanks to a crush of teams within two games of each other and getting swept by fellow 9-11 team Detroit Mercy, it translated into a dismal ninth-place regular season finish. That magnified the disappointment of not living up to the preseason expectations, and that same Titans squad shuffled Purdue Fort Wayne out of the Horizon League Tournament with a 81-68 decision that was, by all accounts, not as close as the final score indicated.
This season, the Mastodons appear to be under a near-total rebuild, with Jarred Godfrey, Bobby Planutis, Ra Kpedi, and Damian Chong Qui out of eligibility, and Deonte Billups not returning, either, despite an extra year of eligibility. That’s not the say that Purdue Fort Wayne head coach Jon Coffman hasn’t been on the lookout for some new pieces to go along with the squad he has coming back.
“I think there’s a lot of unknowns,” Coffman said, “I think the portal, the newcomers, it’s hard to gauge. I like the guys I have. Winning breeds winning. Only Wright State has more wins than us. We’ve got a really good set of coaches. I like the guys who play a style that fit who were are, and I think this group is going to win a lot of games. I think the big question mark is how you can gell.”
Quentin Morton-Robertson – With Chong Qui gone, Morton-Robertson will most certainly fill his shoes, as he did in key minutes throughout the 2022-23 season. In fact, the Radford transfer’s three-point percentage (38.2%) bested Chong Qui’s and was second only to Planutis during the last campaign. With more minutes, Morton-Robertson is poised to better his 6.7 points and 1.5 assists per game for 2022-23, and will be looked at to be every bit the floor general that Chong Qui was.
Anthony Roberts – The high-flying St. Cloud State transfer was, along with Morton-Robertson, one of the key pieces in the rotation last season, averaging 7.4 points on 52% shooting. With a year under his belt, Roberts will move to the starting lineup, where he not only will be called upon to become a critical piece of the Mastodon backcourt, he will also be looked to by Coffman to grab the boards as he did in D2.
Rasheed Bello – Tapping into the D2 talent pool worked well last season for Purdue Fort Wayne with Roberts. In the off-season, the Mastodons did it again, bringing the GLIAC Player of the Year Bello from UW-Parkside on board. The junior is a veritable Swiss Army knife on the court starting all 30 games for the Rangers last year and averaging 17.9 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game, as well as a league-high 74 steals. Depending on the match-up, you may see Bello and Jackson swap spots in the rotation, which will be a good problem for Coffman to have.
“He was a highly-touted player in the D2,” Coffman said of Bello. “He just got underrecruited because of COVID. He could really go at point guard. I think he’s really going to show out.”
Eric Mulder – As the 2022-23 season wore on, Kpedi was regularly spelled by two big men: Mulder and Jonathen DeJurnett. In the end, it was the 6-8 Mulder played every game of his freshman campaign, averaging 2.2 boards per contest. While it’s possible that Mulder could continue to split his time with DeJurnett and others, he’ll likely find his way into the starting lineup.
“The sky’s the limit for him,” Coffman said. “Where I think and DeAngelo (Elisee) can go, they can score with their backs the the basket. I like our depth at the 5.”
Maximus Nelson – Speaking of Valpo, Coffman snagged Nelson, who will likely join Mulder in the starting frontcourt and be looked at to replace Planutis. With 22 starts for the Beacons last season, the sophomore will need to better his 34.2 percent shooting average from beyond the arc to make as big an impact as Planutis did the previous three seasons.
Johnathan DeJurnett – The 6-8 junior, having played 22 games last season, will continue to be one of Coffman’s key rotational pieces in the frontcourt, even moreso with Kpedi’s departure. That means he’ll likely get more playing time and better his 2.1 points and 1.6 rebounds per game from the 2022-23 campaign.
Deangelo Elisee – In addition to DeJurnett, Coffman will also have Elisee, The 6-9 forward from the Bahamas redshirted last season, averaged 4.4 boards per game with Triton College, and should fit quite well in the Mastodons’ scheme.
Jalen Jackson – When looking for players to fill the roles left by Godfrey and Billups at the guard position, Coffman didn’t have to look far at all. While Jackson spent last season at UIC, Fort Wayne will be a homecoming for him, being born and raised in the city (his mom, also played basketball and volleyball for the Mastodons). He won’t be just hanging around for nostalgia purposes, either. The sophomore started 14 games for the Flames in 2022-23, and kept getting better as the season wore on, scoring 21 against Belmont and 19 against Valparaiso. It’s that offense that will be critical for the Mastodons this season.
Destin Whitaker – Though considered a rotational piece with Fresno State, the 6-5 senior did have the distinction of being named to the 2022 All-Tournament team for The Basketball Classic. With three starts last season and averaging a little over 15 minutes per contest, it’s likely we’ll see more of the Romeoville, Illinois native on the floor in a PFW uniform, playing key minutes as he had during his time with the Bulldogs.
Unlike last season, it will be hard to put a finger on where Purdue Fort Wayne will emerge in the 2023-24 campaign. The Mastodons, as evidenced by 2021-22, seem to play their best when the expectations aren’t as high. And given how things have shaken out between the preseason and the end of the season over the years in the Horizon League, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Purdue Fort Wayne will surprise again.
“I think there’s gonna be a lot of unknowns, a lot of good teams, and the margins are so small, “Coffman said. “I’m excited about the group we have coming in.”
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Preview Week Recap Part 1 | Preview Week Recap Part 2