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Rice, Bulldogs ready to take the next step

Photo by Taylor Soule

With the first game of the 2011-2012, basketball season less than a month away, the Drake Bulldogs are ready to step up, stand out and make critical plays in the paint.

On Monday afternoon, Drake hosted men’s basketball’s media day, and both head coach Mark Phelps and the team are ready to work hard, improve and draw Bulldog fans to the Knapp Center.

The Bulldogs boast an experienced roster that, for the first time in Phelps’ four years as Drake head coach, includes more upperclassmen than underclassmen. The Bulldogs lost just one player from last year, and Phelps will look to returning players for leadership and a positive example this season.

Returning players include senior Kurt Alexander, juniors Seth VanDeest and Aaron Hawley and sophomore Rayvonte Rice. The start of this season marks both personal growth and learning experiences for Rice, who is ready to accept punishment and move forward following an August shoplifting incident involving himself and Alexander.

“It was really just a poor choice we made,” Rice said. “I’m ready to accept the consequences. I’m just trying to move forward as a team.”

Both men have been reinstated, but Phelps said he is considering further disciplinary action for the two players, which will likely be sitting out the first couple of games.

The Bulldogs’ experienced roster spans well beyond the court with two former players, including last year’s lone senior Ryan Wedel, joining the Bulldogs’ staff.

“Having two former players on the staff is really kind of cool,” Phelps said.  “I had to recruit him (Wedel) all over again.”

Upperclassmen leadership and experience will likely prove pivotal as the Bulldogs set out to improve their defense, create a more efficient offense and score more points in the paint.

“We have to be better on defense,” Phelps said. “We have to be better at rebounding the basketball. There’s not an area on defense where we couldn’t use some improvement.”

On the offensive front, the Bulldogs plan to focus on dominating play inside the arc as well as creating immediate scoring opportunities.

Phelps said fans can expect a Drake team that “gets the ball in the paint through post-up or dribble penetration.”

Drake’s size advantage will be a factor on both defense and offense this season.

“I don’t know that we have size and depth at the same time, but we definitely have decent size,” Phelps said.

Even with 6-foot-11-inch center VanDeest out for a few more months due to recent shoulder surgery, the team includes three 6-foot-8 players in redshirt junior Jordan Clarke and juniors Hawley and Reece Uhlenhopp, as well as one 6-foot-9 player in redshirt senior Kraidon Woods.

Even with VanDeest on the bench, Rice is confident in Drake’s on-court abilities despite the projected absence of the team’s tallest player.

“We’re very athletic and tough,” the 6-foot-4 guard Rice said.

The Bulldogs also have a promising incoming class, including 6-foot-5 guard Judd Welfringer, 6-foot-6 redshirt freshman Jeremy Jeffers and 6-foot-3 guard Lincoln Vorba.  Phelps is looking to Welfringer to step up early in his career as a Bulldog.

“Judd has a certain feistiness to him that’s unique about our team,” Phelps said.

He added that Welfringer is both “passionate” and a “hard-worker.”

Fans can also look forward to a battle for the starting point guard position.  Along with Alexander, redshirt freshman Karl Madison and redshirt sophomore David Smith are also vying for the spot. Phelps is looking to a “point guard by committee” system among the three players.

Phelps said he is “pleased with the overall preseason conditioning,” and he also said he thinks “the guys feel good about entering this year.”

Drake’s schedule poses some challenges that Phelps believes will benefit his team in the long run. Evansville and Northern Iowa will likely be tough competition in the Missouri Valley, and in-state rivals Iowa and Iowa State provide unique opportunities for the Bulldogs to show their skills and improve.

“Every team poses a threat in the game,” Phelps said.

The Bulldogs open the season on Nov. 5 when they take on Quincy at 11 a.m. at the Knapp Center in exhibition play.

I want to apologize to Drake University for my recent actions. I made a very poor decision, one that I deeply regret. I want to let you know that I take full responsibility for my actions and accept any consequences that come along with it. I know it’s going to be difficult to regain your trust, but I can assure you that I will do everything I can to achieve that. Please accept my apology to everyone associated with Drake University.

– Rayvonte Rice

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