Wolves turn to new faces to lead

MONMOUTH — Western Oregon’s men’s basketball team has a new look this season and a big challenge — how to follow a team responsible for the most prolific season in program history.

Western Oregon has four new starters — only junior forward Tanner Omlid returns — and a multitude of players who experienced their first game action for the Wolves.



“Those guys last year, some of them had gone to school together for four years,” coach Jim Shaw said. “They knew each other extraordinarily well as people and players. That part is hard to duplicate. When you blend new people into new roles, it’s a process. These guys don’t know each other very well as people or basketball players yet.”

The lack of familiarity has led to some adjustments.

A year ago, WOU averaged 8.5 turnovers per game.

That number is up to 13.3 per contest through the team’s first four games.

“Basketball is all about chemistry,” Omlid said. “We have to know how to get guys shots, how to get the advantage on every possession. We’re still learning. We have to play smarter. It just takes time.”

A season ago, Omlid was one of the new kids on the block after transferring from the United States Military Academy.

This time around, he’s one of the veterans.

“It’s different,” Omlid said. “I’m not used to having this big of a leadership role since high school. I have to accept it and play better. I have to lead better overall and be a better basketball player.”

The junior is already one of the team’s top playmakers on both ends of the court. His quickness and anticipation makes him a threat to get a steal and start a fast break. On offense, he has the range to hit the three, the speed to get to the rim, and the court vision to distribute the ball to an open teammate.

Omlid isn’t the only threat WOU boasts.

Junior Ali Faruq-Bey leads the team in scoring (14.8 points per game), while junior Demetrius Trammell is shooting 47.8 percent from beyond the arc.

Junior Bryan Berg, a transfer from Clark College, is also expected to be a major offensive force. Berg averaged 17.6 points per game while shooting 56 percent from the field at Clark College last season.

“He just had a good overall package of character, work ethic and the right attitude,” Shaw said. “He displayed a lot of positives in a lot of different areas.”

Now it becomes a question of how quickly the team can come together.

“We’re really looking at it as a day-by-day process,” Berg said. “We are getting stronger. We’re communicating better and becoming better friends off the court.”

The Wolves won’t be the same this year in offensive style. WOU will see more of a reliance on guard and wing production on offense.

What that final combination of players will be remains to be seen.

“Between now and Christmas we want to figure out a couple different things,” Shaw said. “We want to see how do we want to move with our starting lineup and rotation. The first month or two, we will try a few different things.”

A year ago, the Wolves’ success was, in part, a culmination of years of playing together. WOU, which lost to San Francisco State 99-93 in triple overtime on Friday and to UC San Diego 75-63 on Saturday, hopes to find a similar level of chemistry and trust in a much shorter time period.

“Last weekend was the first time we went through some adversity this season,” Shaw said. “We’ll see how they handle everything. The ceiling for this team is to improve. This is a group that should get better. Through all their unfamiliarity and uncertainty, that’s the biggest challenge is to keep working to get to know each other better.”

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