Stuck in Missouri Valley mediocrity for the past three seasons, Drake’s young basketball squad is gaining the experience to return to contention in the conference.
Drake’s last two freshmen classes, the top-rated recruiting classes in the MVC, are now sophomores and juniors. Sophomore Rayvonte Rice is primed to explode onto the scene as one of the top players in the Valley. If junior Seth VanDeest can stay healthy, he is easily one of the best post presences in the MVC.
With such a loaded roster, the Bulldogs had only one available scholarship for this season. Judd Welfringer, a 6-foot-5 guard who played last year at Waukee High School, caught the eye of head coach Mark Phelps.
Welfringer played high school ball in Arizona for three years, but when he decided to commit to Drake, he moved to Waukee to play his senior season for the Warriors.
“Our team had good chemistry and we gave it a good run. We lost in the fourth quarter (in the state quarterfinals),” Welfringer said. “But I got the opportunity to be a fan, to be a Drake Bulldog. I hadn’t been able to do that, but I got the chance last year when I moved.”
Welfringer saw his first action in a Drake uniform during the team’s preseason foreign tour in New Zealand and Australia. Welfringer saw limited action, which is expected for a freshman, but averaged 2.8 points and 1.8 rebounds in the team’s four games. Welfringer said it was a great opportunity to play against different styles of basketball.
“It was exactly like the European style,” he said. “The players were not as athletic as some of the Division-I players here, but they brought a different style to the table. It was cool to play against.”
Welfringer said it is difficult being the only scholarship freshman, but he said everyone on the team has been supportive. Having two other freshmen on the team, walk-ons Mitch McLaughlin and Lincoln Vorba, has also been helpful since they are dealing with the same adjustments.
The academic reputation of Drake attracted Welfringer to Des Moines and he’s excited to have the opportunity to play at the highest level of college basketball.
“I met with the coaches and it felt like the right place to be,” he said. “I like the small campus because I can get to the other side in 10 minutes. I actually went to the wrong class (last week) and I was able to show up to the right class only five minutes late.”
Welfringer is living in Herriott Residence Hall and said he enjoys living there and meeting new people. The biggest challenge for Welfringer has been adjusting to college athletics and balancing his studying with a social life because “the classes are more difficult than high school.”
Having a lot of playing time during a freshman season is rare in college athletics, but Welfringer will be ready to contribute when called upon.
“I’m just trying to be a spark for my teammates, doing whatever the coaches want,” he said. “I’ll cheer from the bench and keep the energy level high. I just want to compete and not let my team down if I get a chance to get in the game.”