The Drake Men’s Basketball team has had a consistent run in the past few seasons. The team has won 20 or more games in each of the last four years, making the NCAA tournament in two of them.
With head coach Darian DeVries entering his sixth season, hot off an NCAA tournament bid in his fifth, expectations are at an all-time high.
Going into last season, Drake was poised for a historic run due to the sheer depth & experience on their roster. At the time, the team was home to graduate seniors Roman Penn, D.J. Wilkins and Garrett Sturtz. All three had proved themselves as key contributors, and they provided a backbone of experience and composure to the Drake lineup.
These three weren’t the only playmakers though, as Tucker DeVries, the 2023 Missouri Valley Conference player of the year, was slated to start the season alongside them.
As expected, the loaded Drake roster dominated week-in and week-out, fighting their way to a No. 2 seed in the Arch Madness Tournament. After defeating Bradley University 77-51 in the MVC championship, Drake was granted a No. 12 seed NCAA tournament slot.
While getting into the NCAA tournament for the second time in three years was a feat in and of itself, the team wasn’t complacent. In their first-round NCAA tournament matchup with the Miami Hurricanes, the Bulldogs fought tooth and nail to the final buzzer. Despite leading by eight points with just over four and a half minutes to go in the game, Drake wasn’t able to pull off the upset, losing by a score of 63-55.
Now, Drake looks to the future. Wilkins, Penn and Sturtz have all departed the team as their final year of eligibility has concluded. To add salt to the wound, the team lost a total of seven players to the transfer portal. Coach DeVries and the rest of the staff are now pushing to prepare a revamped roster to compete for another MVC Championship.
A recent addition to the Drake roster is 6-foot-5 forward Ethan Roberts, a proven sophomore player who started 31 of 33 games for West Point this past season, his first season of college ball. Roberts impressed with West Point, shooting 47.6% from the field and 40.7% from 3-point range.
“I believe in Coach DeVries and the program he has developed. It’s a winning one surrounded by a great group of guys and alumni. I really felt like Drake is a place where I can reach my dreams on the court and potentiate off of it as well,” Roberts said. “As a player this off-season, my entire plan is just to step up my game a few notches. I want to be stronger and faster and continue building my game brick by brick. I’m completely locked in on stringing together good workouts that build to good days to good weeks and so on.”
Drake also welcomed some exciting recruits recently, landing four-star prospect Chico Johnson and three-star recruit Kevin Overton. Johnson had an impressive high school career with Central Catholic High School, averaging 15.5 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. Overton comes from Sunrise Christian, a school known for producing talent. With Sunrise Christian alumni such as NBA player Buddy Hield and NBA rookie Gradey Dick, Overton is in good company.
An obviously hefty lift in Drake’s attempts at a repeat title will bank on DeVries, as he was the youngest, and highest scoring with a 18.6 ppg average, starter last season.
DeVries has proven his ability to carry the team offensively, and he’ll have to take on an inevitably larger load this season — both as a player and a leader.
“I think it’ll be a little different, especially from last year where we had four or five seniors and me and Brody who have played quite a bit of minutes, we kind of all led together,” Tucker DeVries said. “This coming year there’s only going to be two or three returners that have played quite a few significant minutes, and a lot more weight is going to be put on two or three more guys to be able to fulfill that leadership role especially for the new guys.”
As the season approaches and the revamped Drake roster builds chemistry, fans can eagerly await the arrival of a number of new stars and the return of a few familiar faces in November.