Shane Truskolaski, UVU Athletics
OREM, Utah — Utah Valley University tips off the 2012-13 season with an afternoon tilt at IUPUI on Friday at noon MT from Indianapolis. The game can be heard live on 960 AM the Zone.
The Wolverines will embark on three games in six nights trip to open the season with contests at North Carolina A&T on Monday and Washington State on Wednesday as part of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic.
IUPUI returns two starters from last season’s 14-18 team including preseason All-Summit League selection Ian Chiles.
“IUPUI has some experienced scoring ability returning. They have inside/outside balance and like to play an up-tempo, quick-paced game and be on the attack,” UVU head coach Dick Hunsaker said. “Starting on the road is going to expose our strengths and weaknesses very quickly.”
The Wolverines, coming off a 20-win season and a postseason berth in the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament, were picked Thursday to win their third straight Great West Conference title in a vote of league coaches.
"Obviously we're very pleased and proud of the achievements and accomplishments the team has had the last couple of years. We've had a competitive group that represented the university well on the court," said Hunsaker.
UVU received three first place votes to finish with 22 points, while NJIT was picked to finish second, Texas-Pan American third, Houston Baptist fourth and conference tournament host Chicago State fifth. NJIT and Houston Baptist received one first place vote apiece.
2012-13 will be the Utah Valley’s final year as a member of the Great West with membership in the Western Athletic Conference set to begin on July 1, 2013.
Coming off of his team's second consecutive Great West Conference championship and the school's two most successful seasons as an NCAA Division I program, Hunsaker knows repeating the feat will be a challenge after losing three starters from a year ago.
"Losing over 50 percent of our scoring and two first-team All-Conference players in Isiah Williams and Geddes Robinson will be a test," Hunsaker said. "Add to that Keith Thompson's playmaking ability as well as our stability off the bench with Kevin Woods and Rory Fannon and that's a big chunk of the team. "
Hunsaker went on to say it's going to be a growing and re-establishing season.
"We're obviously a team in search of a new identity," he said. "We're rebuilding and re-establishing ourselves. We're well aware we are going to be challenged and have a lot of growth in front of us."
The two starters returning, Holton Hunsaker and Ben Aird, were both second team All-Conference selections and were second and third on the team in scoring with 10.5 and 10.4 points per game, respectively.
"Ben and Holton are cornerstones of our program. Both are two-year starters. They are our stabilizers. It's very unusual for us to have two players in their positions that came in and started as freshmen and have established themselves on and off the court with their leadership and intangibles. Their ability to integrate with a new set of teammates is going to be instrumental in our development and progress," Hunsaker said.
Also returning are seniors Zach Jones and Alfonzo Hubbard. Hubbard was named the Great West's Sixth Man of the Year and to the All-Newcomer Team as a junior after his first season in Orem. Another senior on this year's squad is Nick Thompson, who redshirted last season after transferring from Oklahoma and prior to that Eastern Utah.
The schedule will test UVU early with seven out of eight and nine of 11 games away from the UCCU Center. The Wolverines will play two in-state games, at Weber State on Dec. 5 and home against Utah State on Dec. 15 in a game that will air on Fox College Sports.
"Scheduling is always out of our control and trying to schedule such a large portion outside the conference has been a challenge," Hunsaker said. "Being so road heavy to start the year compounds the issue with a new and inexperienced team playing together. It's very important that we remain patient and positive and give the guys the opportunity to build and grow as a unit."
The GWC schedule begins Jan. 5 at home against NJIT, a team that knocked the Wolverines out of the conference tournament last March. For the second straight season, the Great West Tournament will be hosted by Chicago State in mid-March.
And while the WAC awaits UVU next summer, Hunsaker's squad is not counting on its past success nor is it looking ahead to next year, only prepping for its final season in the Great West.
"We're focused on the task at hand," Hunsaker said.
Clint Burgi is the assistant athletic director for sports information at Utah Valley University. For more information on Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.
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