The returning starters include Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside, senior post player Evan Jones and junior 3-point specialist Dan Rough. Both earned second-team all-conference honors a year ago, and with good reason.
Jones, an agile 6-foot-6, led the Northwest Conference of Independent Colleges (NCIC) in total rebounds with 192 sweeps of the backboards. He also topped the conference in total blocked shots with 53. He didn't fare too badly in the scoring department either, averaging 16.8 points per game while shooting 52.6 percent from the floor.
Rough, a 6-foot-1 sharpshooter, led the conference last winter in free throw percentage (93.3 percent) and total 3-point field goals (90), and he was second during the regular season in points scored (440). He averaged 18.3 points, a mere half-point behind the conference leader.
Rough, who led the nation (NAIA Div. II) in 3-point percentage as a freshman, topped the country in free throw percentage for several weeks last year as a sophomore. He finished the season by making 56 of 60 free throws, including all 26 of his attempts in conference play.
Andrew Schillinger, Whitman's whirling-dervish of a point guard, returns for his senior season after leading the NCIC last year in total assists (139) and assists per game (5.8). He was the only player in the conference whose average assist-to-turnover ratio was better than two-to-one.
A fourth starter back in the fold is Alan Van Divort, a rugged 6-foot-6 post player who hauled down 6.1 rebounds a game last year while giving some backbone to the interior defense.
"With the experience we have back, we should compete very well in our conference," Molitor said. "We have a very realistic chance of finishing in the top four and making the playoffs. To be real honest, though, every other coach in the league could say just about the same thing. Lewis & Clark is the hands-down favorite, but after that, from top to bottom, the league in going to be very competitive."
Based on the performance of its representatives at the NAIA Div. II national tournament over the past five years, the NCIC has proved itself to be the toughest conference in the country. Willamette won the national title three years ago, and Whitworth lost a heart-breaker in the title game last year.
A trio of very talented newcomers will help fortify Whitman's run at the playoffs this winter. One of the three is Tommy Lloyd, a proven producer of points and big-time competitor who returned to the Walla Walla valley for his senior season. Lloyd, a 6-foot-4 wing, led Walla Walla Community College into its regional tournament, scoring well over 20 points per game and eventually landing a spot on the all- region team. He exploded for a Michael Jordan-like 52 points in one contest.
After spending his junior season at NCAA Div. I Southern Colorado University, where he did not get receive as much playing time as he would like, Lloyd transferred to Whitman. "The great thing about Tommy is that he is second to no one when it comes to work ethic and desire," Molitor said. "He is a competitor."
Lloyd is expected to fill the fifth spot in the starting rotation, but Molitor also expects big contributions off the bench from 6-foot-4 junior Todd Wyatt and 6-foot-3 sophomore Ladd Preppernau. As a freshman three years ago, Wyatt started for the Missionaries and averaged 4.9 rebounds and 7.2 points per game. The linebacker-like forward did not play the past two seasons, but he's back with a vengeance and expected to hold his own on the rock-'em, sock-'em backboards.
Preppernau, a transfer student, led Wenatchee Valley Community College to a regional championship last year. He holds the WVCC school records for both 3-point goals in a season and career.
"The three new guys are very sound fundamentally," Molitor said. "It will not take them long to blend in with the rest of the team."
Another player expected to see key minutes off the bench is 6-foot-9 sophomore Mike Keyser, who averaged 5.9 points and three rebounds last year as a freshman. Given his size, Keyser shoots surprisingly well from the outside, and he's added strength to his inside game by hitting the weight room in the offseason.
Molitor has two new assistants, both of whom have very familiar faces for fans of Whitman basketball. C.J. Froke is switching to the men's program after having served several seasons as an assistant to John Wilcox, who retired last spring as the Whitman women's coach. Froke's responsibilities include coaching Whitman's new junior varsity team.
The JV squad, which will play a slate of 13 games this winter, includes junior Andrew Huff, sophomores Tom Storey, Diallo Jackson and Davor Rukavina, and freshmen Todd Hendry, Jack Baker, Jesse Arick and Greg Durkin.
Huff, the 3-point champion two years ago at Whitman's Midnight Madness, will serve as a stabilizing force for the junior varsity this season. Molitor expects both scoring and leadership from Hendry, a 6-foot-1 guard, and Storey, a 6-foot-7 forward. Hendry averaged 24 points a game as a senior at Monroe (Wash.) High School and led his conference in scoring.
Rukavina, Durkin and Baker give the JV frontline good size. Jackson and Arick add speed and scoring pop to the backcourt.
Molitor's other new assistant is Brian Lewallen, a three-year starter for the Missionaries who graduated in 1995 after amassing nearly 1,200 points in his four-year career.