Coming off two straight trips to the NAIA Division II National Tournament and three consecutive 20-win seasons for the first time in school history, the Mount Vernon Nazarene College men's basketball team will look to continue its winning ways as the Cougars prepare to tip-off the 1999-2000 season on Tuesday evening at Kentucky Christian College at 7:30 p.m.
In order to continue with the program's success, MVNC will have to find a way to replace four seniors (Ehren Hull, Brad Hostasa, Todd Sands, and Rich Flowers) who recorded almost 5,500 career points and led the team to an 86-43 overall record during their careers.
However, with the combination of a solid core of returning players and a quality group of newcomers, head coach Scott Flemming is cautiously optimistic about the Cougars' chances in the new season.
"We have more question marks than we've had over the past three years," said Flemming. "I feel like we have some good young players, but they are unproven at this point. Because of the make up of our team, we will probably play more people this year and have many different line-ups."
"Although we cannot replace the three All-Americans that we lost to graduation, I believe that we have the depth this year to keep fresh players on the court without changing the quality of play," Flemming added. "Our style will not change - the Cougars will continue to play very up-tempo basketball."
Leading MVNC in the 1999-2000 season will be seniors Adam Stevens and Kyle Gerhart, two returning starters who have started in a combined 165 games during their stellar three-year careers.
Stevens, a 6-6 forward, has started in all 99 games that MVNC has played during his career. (He is the only player to accomplish that in the program's history.) He averaged 14.9 points and 8.8 rebounds per game last season and also recorded the first triple-double in school history. In 1997-1998, he was selected as an NAIA Division II Third Team All-American after averaging 18.1 points per game and grabbing a school-record 324 rebounds.
Gerhart, a 5-10 point guard, has been among the leaders in NAIA Division II in assists in each of the past two seasons. Last year, he averaged 4.7 points per game, but he ranked 18th in NAIA Division II in assists per game with 6.0 per contest. He is currently fourth on the Cougars' career assists list with 443.
"Adam and Kyle will be the leaders on this year's team," said Flemming. "Adam is one of the best all-around players at the NAIA level, and Kyle is one of the top point guards in our conference."
J.D. Burke, a 6-0 forward, is the third and final senior on this year's squad. Burke, who was one of only six players to play in all 33 games a year ago, is one of the team's top defenders.
Joining these three seniors are six other returning players who each saw plenty of action last year. Junior point guard Matt Keller (6-0) spelled Gerhart off the bench and averaged 3.2 points per game while dishing out 82 assists and leading the team in free throw percentage (86.7 percent).
Kenny Chaffin and Jon Ware, two 6-6 sophomore post players, averaged 4.2 and 3.1 points per game respectively in their first collegiate seasons. The two also combined to block 45 shots and grab 115 rebounds.
Guards Coy Lindsey (6-0 junior) and Andy Gast (6-0 sophomore), along with sophomore forward Lenny Foyer (6-3), also gained valuable experience off the bench during the 1998-1999 season. Lindsey connected on 23 three-pointers that included a 7-for-7 performance from beyond the arc versus Urbana University. Gast and Foyer each played in 17 games and averaged 1.9 and 2.4 points per game respectively.
Flemming has landed another quality recruiting class to go along with the quality group of returning players. Headlining the list is Phil Argento, the Ohio Division III Player of the Year from Lutheran West High School. Argento, a 6-2 guard averaged 29.5 points and 6.5 assists per game as a senior.
Matt Taylor, a 6-5 post player, joins the Cougars after becoming Bowling Green High School's all-time leading scorer with 1,128 points. He was an Honorable Mention All-Ohioan as a senior.
Konrod Morris, a 6-3 forward from Jamaica, will also don the blue and green of MVNC after averaging 23.0 points and 9.3 rebounds per game at Wolmers High School.
Rounding out the Cougars' roster are freshmen guards Jonathan Hebrank (5-11 from Bellbrook, Ohio) and Ben Radcliffe (6-0 from Papau, New Guinea) and junior forward Robert Mahaffey (6-3 from Nashville, Tennessee).
The Cougars will be tested every time out in the highly-competitive American Mideast Conference. MVNC will also travel to tournaments at Ashland University and Taylor (IN) University as well as hosting the Cougar Homecoming Classic and the Food for the Hungry Holiday Invitational.