KYLE BEERY | STAFF REPORTER
Two exhibition games are in the books for the Butler men’s basketball team. It now turns to its first test of the regular season – the first official game in the newly renovated Hinkle Fieldhouse is Saturday against the University of Maine.
A lot of changes come for Butler this year, the biggest change coming at the helm. Chris Holtmann takes over as the interim head coach after Brandon Miller took a medical leave of absence after one season with the Bulldogs.
The fifth starter will be junior Roosevelt Jones, making his return to the team after suffering a season-ending wrist injury before last season.
Jones, who says he’s just been itching to play basketball after the long time away from the team, said he’s ready to come back and step into a bit of a different role. While he’ll still be driving to the basket and putting up his patented floater, he’ll do a lot more ball handling. Jones had eight assists in an 88-45 exhibition win over the University of Chicago and five assists in a 98-43 win over Franklin College.
“I knew this year I’d have to play the point position a lot more, that’s why I’ve been working on ball handling a lot,” Jones said. “I worked on that a lot this summer.”
Soul searching and depth-finding
Holtmann said the team spent a lot of time during the preseason finding its identity. Finding that identity will continue into the season, as they will try to develop more depth – something that most Big East teams have, Holtmann said.
“We’re not a deep team right now,” Holtmann said. “We need to get deeper. I think we’re getting there, but that’s going to require some of our young guys to really step in and help us.”
Etherington sees himself gradually fitting into the role of a veteran leader, despite being new to the team.
“I’ve gotten to know all the guys,” Etherington said, “and I played with several of them growing up.”
“I definitely see myself as one of the leaders, I fit right in.,” Etherington said.
Black Bear, Black Bear, what do you see?
Maine was picked by coaches of the America East Conference to finish eighth in the nine-team league. The Black Bears went 6-23 last season and finished seventh in the conference with a 4-12 record. They fell 80-54 to Stony Brook University in the first round of the conference tournament.
Maine also heads into this season under new leadership. Bob Walsh takes over for Ted Woodward, who was head coach for 10 seasons.
The Black Bears have six returning letterwinners, including senior leading scorer Zarko Valjarevic. Valjarevic averaged 11.3 points per game last season and shot 44 percent from three-point range.
Maine split a pair of exhibition games, losing 78-73 to Southern Maine and beating Husson University 98-58. The Black Bears were without Valjarevic and Troy Reid-Knight, both with preseason injuries.
Till Groger had a team-high 19 points against Southern Maine and Garet Beal had 26 against Husson.
Holtmann said while the last few months were spent focusing on their own team, the Bulldogs have now started scouting other teams.
“We have watched them and begun to prepare for them,” Holtmann said. “This is going to continue, even in the early parts of the year be so much about ‘can we continue to improve,’ but certainly scouting and our awareness of the opponent is really going to pick up this week.”
Black Bears’ size
Holtmann noted that the Bulldogs will have to defend well against the Black Bears’ size. 10 of Maine’s 12 players are 6’4” or taller.
The freshmen on the roster are particularly big:
Erik Nissen, 6’9″
Christian Ejiga, 6’8″
Marko Pirovic, 6’7″
Garet Beal, 6’6″
Artutas Besevicius, 6’4″
The game is nationally televised on Fox Sports 2 and tips off at 4:30 at Hinkle Fieldhouse.