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Trapper men don blue collars, seek all new starting lineup

When a team’s top five scorers all leave, a coach might be left scratching his head for ideas on how to approach the following season.

Not Brian Erickson, who is entering his second season as the head coach (and his first free of the “interim” label) of the Northwest Trappers men’s basketball team.

Erickson’s expectations are clear.

“We’re going to try to out-work every team we play,” he said.

The Trappers will punch in to the 2013-14 season Friday when they face Bismarck State at the Miles Community College Tournament at 3:30 p.m, and then Rocky Mountain JV at 2 p.m. Saturday.

On the first day of practice, Erickson told his 16 players, “We’re going to take charges, we’re going to dive on the floor and we’re going to rebound the basketball.”

The hard-nosed identity Northwest is fostering will have to carry the Trappers as they figure out just exactly who they are during the season’s early going.

“The one thing I can be the most happy for right now is they play hard, they play physical,” Erickson said. “They bring it every day.”

Who “they” will be on the court is still up in the air.

Erickson said he’s “not even close” to determining his five starters, other than sophomore point guard Gary Gordon.

“Gary was our for-sure point guard coming in,” said Erickson, who went on to describe Gordon as a “tough kid” who brings a lot of “positive emotion” to the team.”

Aside from Gordon, Erickson said “we got some guys that are really close.” True freshman, redshirt freshman, or sophomore, the coach doesn’t care.

“I told every one of them, ‘You haven’t earned anything,’” Erickson said. “They (returning players) knew that back in March-April, it starts all over again. I want to see somebody step up.”

About a dozen players are vying for spots vacated by eight former Trappers.

“We have a little bit more depth this year,” Erickson said. “It’s a good problem to have.”

The two biggest holes were left by graduating sophomores Jeffrey Solarin (now with Idaho State) and Junior Coleman (now with University of Minnesota-Duluth).

Solarin averaged 16.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and nearly a steal in 26.1 minutes per game. As a sophomore, Solarin shot 61.5 percent from the floor, good for 22nd overall in the nation and sixth among players averaging 10 or more field goal attempts per game.

Coleman averaged 14.5 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.5 steals in 26.2 minutes a game.

“They did a lot for us but I believe we’ve got some guys that can make up for some of the things they did — scoring, rebounding,” Erickson said.

Two of those players joined Northwest as transfers this season.

Andreas Bigum (Copenhagen, Denmark) spent a year at Northern Oklahoma Community College and Lawrence Fejokwu (Lagos, Nigeria) did the same at Southeastern Iowa before coming to Northwest to join fellow Sunrise Christian Academy (Wichita, Kan.,) alum Franklin Uzonwanne (Delta, Nigeria).

Both big men are expected to contribute, though in different ways.

The 6-foot, 8-inch Bigum is “capable of playing the wing or getting on the block,” Erickson said. “He scores really well from the outside.”

Fejokwu, who stands 6-feet, 9-inches tall, will provide some much-needed size down low and is “able to block some shots,” Erickson said.

The Trappers welcome the help near the basket.

“We need to get better in the post,” Erickson said. “Our guards have been dominating right now.”

Northwest will need everyone to work together to make the triangle offense work properly.

Erickson likes the system because it slows the pace of the game down a bit but “guys have a little bit of freedom to make a basketball play,” he said.

Quality decision-making and offensive efficiency will be key. Though Erickson said shooting is his team’s greatest offensive strength right now, the Trappers need to work on getting high-percentage shots rather than settling for perimeter jumpers.

Early-season film sessions have been spent trying to identify where the best scoring chances are.

“We have a kid that has a wide open 20-footer, and he makes it,” Erickson said.’ And I stop it and I show him he had a wide-open 5-footer too if he drives it in.

“It’s guys understanding looks in the offense and when the post is open,” the coach explained. “Each day we’ve gotten better but we still have a lot to work on.”

Erickson’s message of work might ring truest on the defensive side of the ball, where the coach said his team will man up with its opponent a vast majority of the time.

“We put a lot of time into it from Oct. 1 and on,” Erickson said. “We work on our shell defense every single day.”

Northwest’s defensive effectiveness will be largely up to how intense the Trappers are willing to play.

“The times that they bring it, we’ve been really good defensively,” Erickson said.

Northwest plays a true team defense that relies on lot of help side support.

“It’s very team-oriented,” Erickson said.

The Trappers will show the occasional zone look, depending on the game situation and opponent’s offense.

Erickson said he implemented the zone last year, but will likely use it a little more frequently this season.

“I’d like to have that option,” he said.

Erickson will serve a one-game suspension Friday for violating NJCAA rules during the offseason. The coach will be back on the sidelines Saturday.

The rest of the returning sophomores are Gabe Solarin (Aurora, Colo.,), Jonothan Newsom (Aurora, Colo.,), KJ Rech (Rapid City, SD.,), and Hyrum Checketts (Lovell).

Solarin scored 6.5 ppg last season and is the highest-scoring returning sophomore.

The incoming freshmen are Cody McCoy (Fort Collins, Colo.,) Christian Wells (American Fork, Utah), Levi Petersen (Moorcroft), EJ Hubbard (San Antonio, Texas) and Jordon Rood (Rock Springs).

The team’s three redshirt freshmen are Colin May (Lovell), Taylor Shamo (Delta, Utah) and Tyler Chandler (Evanston).

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