Story by Luke Nankivell
The next basketball season for the Drake is around the corner, and the atmosphere around the program is one of optimism.
New head coach Ray Giacoletti, who served as assistant coach at Gonzaga University for the last six years, brings with him a new direction for the program. Along with that, Giacoletti brings in a fresh set of assistant coaches.
Bill Walker out of Texas A&M brings 25 years of coaching experience to Drake. Jeff Rutter was with Iowa State the past seven years. Todd Townsend rounds out the coaching staff after spending the last four years at Northern Illinois.
“Our staff didn’t watch tape from last year,” Giacoletti said during media day. “We told the guys, ‘You’re going to get a fresh start, everybody’s got a clean slate.’”
After losing four of the team’s top-6 scorers from last season, including starters Chris Hines, Ben Simons and Jordan Clarke, many players have the chance to emerge as leaders.
For Giacoletti, seniors being able to step up are beneficial for the team. With the most experience, these players can help teammates become accustomed to Division I basketball.
“Coach wants us seniors to be what he calls ‘energy guys,’” senior guard Gary Ricks Jr. said. “It’s a way for us to get out of our shell and communicate more, but it’s definitely a lot of fun.”
“We have a new scheme and new guys,” fifth-year senior center Seth VanDeest said. “We’re taking it one day at a time. It’s all a new process.”
One of those new guys is Jacob Jensen, who comes to Drake after playing in Lunderskov, Denmark. At 18 years old, Jensen is the youngest member of Denmark’s national team.
“We’re extremely lucky and fortunate to have a true five-man,” Giacoletti said. “He’s someone with a few years’ experience that has the chance to be one of the better bigs in the league.”
ESPN projected the Bulldogs to place last place in the Missouri Valley Conference, behind newcomer Loyola of Chicago. Loyola comes into the MVC after Drake’s rival Creighton left to play in the Big East Conference.
“You can’t put stock into those kinds of things,” VanDeest said. “We just have to come to work and try to improve each day.”
“That’s definitely huge motivation for us going into the season,” Ricks said. “We realize we have a pretty big chip on our shoulders, but we’re going to prove that we’re not the 10th best in the MVC, but at least in the top half.”
VanDeest returns to the court as the Bulldogs’ top returning scorer and rebounder, averaging 9.5 points and 4.8 rebounds per game last season. Senior guard Richard Carter also returns as a starter, after placing ninth in the MVC in assists.
The Bulldogs will host an exhibition Nov. 3 against Central College, and the regular season starts Nov. 9 at the University of Illinois-Chicago.