WOU men’s basketball team excited for growth

Riley Hawken keeps the ball away from an opponent during a game last season.

Chris Oertell/for the Itemizer-Observer
Riley Hawken keeps the ball away from an opponent during a game last season.

MONMOUTH — Western Oregon University men’s basketball team may have graduated one of the team’s key players, Tanner Omlid, as well as all but two seniors, but this season’s Wolves are making sure they keep to what they believe are the two main ingredients to be a successful team: culture and hard work.

WOU Men’s basketball schedule

Nov. 29: Simon Frasier University at WOU, 7 p.m. GANC

Dec. 1: Western Washington University at WOU, 7 p.m. GNAC

Dec. 8: Corban University at WOU, 3 p.m.

Dec. 14: WOU at University of Hawaii of Hilo, 5 p.m.

Hoops in Hawaii

Dec. 16: WOU at Emmanuel College, 1:15 p.m.

Dec. 17: WOU at Hawaii Pacific OR UC San Diego, TBA

Dec. 18: WOU at TBA.

Dec. 29: Portland Bible College at WOU, 4 p.m.

Jan. 3: WOU at University of Alaska Anchorage, 7:30 p.m. GNAC

Jan. 5: WOU at University of Alaska Fairbanks, 3:15 p.m. GNAC

Jan. 8: Concordia University at WOU, 7 p.m. GNAC

Jan. 10: WOU at Montana State University Billings, 7 p.m. GNAC

Jan. 17: Saint Martin’s University at WOU, 7:30 p.m. GNAC

Jan. 19: Seattle Pacific University at WOU, 5:15 p.m. GNAC

Jan. 24: WOU at Central Washington University, 7 p.m. GNAC

Jan. 26: WOU at Northwest Nazarene University, 7 p.m. GNAC

Jan. 31: University of Alaska Fairbanks at WOU, 7 p.m. GNAC

Feb. 2: University of Alaska Anchorage at WOU, 7 p.m. GNAC

Feb. 5: WOU at Concordia University, 7 p.m. GNAC

Feb. 9: Montana State University Billings at WOU, 5:15 p.m. GNAC

Feb. 14: WOU at Seattle Pacific University, 7 p.m. GNAC

Feb. 16: WOU at Saint Martin’s University, 7 p.m. GNAC

Feb, 21: Northwest Nazarene University at WOU, 7:30 p.m. GNAC

Feb. 23: Central Washington University at WOU, 7 p.m. GNAC

Feb. 28: WOU at Western Washington University, 7 p.m. GNAC

March 2: WOU at Simon Frasier University, 7 p.m. GNAC

March 7-9: GNAC Championships at Bellingham, Wa. TBA

March 16-20: NCAA West Regional, TBA

Riley Hawken, a 6-feet-six-inch junior forward from Vancouver, Wash., who transferred to WOU as a sophomore in 2016, and appeared in 32 of 33 games last year, said the remaining veteran teammates, himself included, will help to set up an atmosphere for the rest of the team to follow.

“I think that all the returners from last year have taken a personal step in making sure that the culture stays the same,” Hawken said. “We have all been a part of something bigger than ourselves and we all know how to put aside personal accolades for the greater good. Using this to guide the younger and new guys will set us up for success.”

Head coach Jim Shaw, with more than 25 years of experience at the NCAA DI level, and four years as the Wolves’ head coach, said that his goal for each season is pretty simple: for the team to become the best that they can be.

“I think each year you have a goal for your group or team to be the best version of themselves they can be, and fortunately and unfortunately, that’s not always the same result, but it’s the same process to get there, and this group’s process won’t be any different than the others,’” he said.

Shaw took the Wolves to the GNAC regular season title in his first year leading the program, its first GNAC Championships tournament title, and the No. 1 seed in the 2016 NCAA Division II Men’s Basketball West Regional Tournament, making it the first time that the Wolves had advanced to the elite eight in a national tournament since 1982.

But Shaw’s coaching philosophy doesn’t focus on how many wins and losses his team racks up. It’s focused on a belief system that Shaw holds to his core.

“I think you know what you believe in and you make sure that’s what you emphasize, and you’re gonna achieve whatever you emphasize, so just make sure you know what that is and that you believe in it,” he said.

Last season, the Wolves held a 31-2 overall record, with a 24-game winning streak, and making it to the NCAA DII Men’s Basketball West Regional Championship before losing 80-76 against Cal Baptist.

This year’s season opened on Nov. 10 and so far, the team has logged four wins out of six games. The Wolves are off to a good start.

And it’s because the team is willing to work hard.

“... We have a team fully committed to being the hardest workers in the league,” Hawken said. “We have a foundation set from previous years that will set as an example of what we are supposed to look like.”

It’s a different team than last season, with a different set of strengths, and while they might not be as equipped as last year, they still have the opportunity to become the best version of themselves, Shaw said.

“We lost so many key pieces last year,” he said. “This ... is the least amount of returning impact players we’ve had; this year’s group, in order to be good, has got the biggest challenge.”

Some younger players who have stepped up so far are Darius Lubom, the 6-feet-one-inch guard from Kent, Wash., who played in 32 of WOU’s 33 games last season, and Jaylyn Richardson, a 6-feet-three-inch junior guard from Waverly Hall, GA, who made 24 appearances last year.

In their 80-65 victory against Warner Pacific, Lubom helped secure the win in the second half by adding 19 points, five rebounds, three steals and two assists, all in 26 minutes.

Richardson had five rebounds, three steals and three points in 11 minutes in the first half, and finished the game with 10 points and eight boards.

The Wolves open GNAC play opens on Nov. 29, where the Wolves will host Simon Frasier at 7 p.m. in the New P.E. Building.

Hawken, as designated team leader, said his goal for the season is to help the team grow.

“My only personal goal for this season is to help out the team in any way that allows us to be successful,” he said. “We all have a role to play in the team, and whatever the coaches put me at I will do my best at.”

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