Knox College’s men’s basketball coach Rob Purlee watched five members of last season’s team graduate last week.
Before Ben Wetherbee, Tanner Carlson, Joe Kozak, Jacob Lewis and Alex Schobert walked across the stage located on Old Main’s South Lawn, Purlee had already received commitments from five new players — Andrew Vey, Danny Forde, Javaka Thompson, Charlie Harned and Eric Miller.
“We are really excited about the qualities and skills that our incoming guys are going to add to our basketball program,” said Purlee, who is entering his fifth season at the helm of the Prairie Fire.
And it’s an incoming class facing a big challenge. Knox finished 3-20 last season and under Purlee is 9-81 the past four years.
Carlson, Knox’s starting point guard the past two seasons, averaged 12.3 points and 4.9 assists in his final season. Kozak, a post player who could knock down some shots beyond the arc, led the team in scoring, averaging 12.9 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. Wetherbee, a 3-point specialist, averaged six points a game. Schobert and Lewis came off the bench for the Prairie Fire, averaging 7.6 and 5.3 minutes per game respectively.
“We have to go back to the basics. We have to sharpen our fundamentals,” said Purlee about what the Prairie Fire need to do in order to get more wins. “We have to do a better job coaching. We have to do a better job of preparing them for end of game situations in practice. We have to make sure we have the right personnel on the floor in the last four or five minutes.
“We have to get in better shape, so that as the game progresses we are becoming stronger.”
Purlee will count on his trio of seniors — Doug Lillibridge, Tyler Olson and Lukas Shaw — to help turn things around this fall.
“To be successful in this league, your seniors have to play at a high level,” he said. “It will be a smaller roster then we’ve had before.”
David Jones along with Shaw will more than likely start in the post this upcoming season. Jones, a 6-foot-7 junior, averaged 5.3 points and 4.7 rebounds as a sophomore. The 6-foot-5 Shaw averaged 11.5 points and 6.8 rebounds.
“David will have a different role,” Purlee said. “He had to come off the bench when Joe was here. We are excited to play David and Lukas together. We haven’t done that much.”
Sophomores Armand Strickland and Eric Crawford could man the point guard position for Knox once the Prairie Fire begin their season on November 15 at home against MacMurray College.