Article Written by Ryan McNamara. Photo by Ryan McNamara.

ST. CLOUD, Minnesota — After a 10-18 showing in the 2022-23 season, St. Cloud State Men’s Basketball head coach Quincy Henderson leads a team that carries just six holdovers from last season.

Now, with his first season at the helm under his belt, Henderson had his first full offseason to bolster his roster and further instill a new culture to represent St. Cloud State men’s basketball.

The Youth Movement

To say Henderson and his staff used the offseason effectively is an understatement. The Huskies brought in eight freshmen, making up an astounding 53 percent of the roster.

The team saw immediate returns to start the 2023-24 campaign, starting the season with two wins over Pittsburg State and Henderson State in the Central Region Challenge in Kansas City, Missouri. Freshman guard Anish Ramlall (Rosemount, MN) and freshman forward Vance Peiffer (Waukee, IA) started in both contents. Ramlall averaged 14.5 points per game and 3.0 rebounds in a team-high 29.0 minutes, while Peiffer was effective in the paint averaging 8.0 points, and was second on the team averaging 7.5 rebounds. Off the bench, freshman guard Lucas Morgan (Sydney, Australia) had eye-popping efficiency. Morgan averaged a team-leading 17.5 points, shooting 68.4 percent from the field, in just 25.0 minutes and recorded a double-double in the 74-64 victory against Henderson State last Saturday. Morgan was named to the Northern Sun Collegiate Conference (NSIC) Men’s Basketball Shining 5 for his performance last weekend. Three other freshmen received minutes in the Challenge: guards Nate Dahl (Buffalo, MN) and Jamiir Allen (Milwaukee, WI), and forward Wyatt Hawks (White Bear Lake). Freshman guards Izaac Neal (Oak Creek, WI) and Nathan Bunkosky (Ponte Vedra Beach, FL) did not receive playing time.

When asked about the youngsters’ performance over the weekend, Coach Henderson said, “We did have a big incoming freshman class this year and they will certainly have opportunities to impact the game. I thought we had a good blend of returners and new guys working together throughout the weekend”.

As noted by Henderson, it’s not just the first-year performers that opposing teams must worry about. The Huskies expect contributions from top-to-bottom on the roster, including the veteran 47 percent.

While the roster turnover was immense, the returning members on the roster were unsurprisingly key to the Huskies’ ten victories in 2022-23, which included seven wins in-conference. The previously mentioned six holdovers (forwards Luke Taylor and Matt Willert, and guards Dom Aguilar, Tony Dahl, Joe Mutimer, and Andre Renta) accounted for 63.6% of minutes played and a staggering 67.2% of scoring over 28 games last season.

Taylor, Willert, and Dahl return as the top three scorers for SCSU and will be a central part of the “blend of scoring” that the Huskies saw in the Central Region Challenge.

Taylor, the longest-tenured Husky on the 2023-24 roster, is the preseason NSIC Player to Watch for St. Cloud State. He comes off a senior season where he averaged career-highs in points (12.8) and rebounds (4.6) in 24.0 minutes, also leading the team in made field goals (137) and rebounds (130).

Willert returns as the Huskies’ largest per-game scoring threat, utilizing a Dirk Nowitzki-esque shooting form on the perimeter. Willert led the team in points per game (13.9) as a junior last season and total three-point field goals made (55).

Dahl played his first minutes of collegiate basketball after redshirting and medical redshirting his first two seasons. The guard gave the Huskies an option on the perimeter, averaging 8.5 points and shooting 39.4 percent from three-point range, corralling just under a steal per game.

The trio combined for 46 points in the two weekend wins.

On their performance and their return, Coach Henderson said, “It is great to have those guys back this season. After spending a year in the system, a season ago, and now carrying it over it has helped soften the learning curve for all of the new guys. We will rely on our tenured guys to keep moving this program forward.”

The other half of “tenured guys” played well in established roles last season. Mutimer, in his third season with the Huskies, transitioned into a facilitator as he carved out a role in the starting lineup, setting career-highs in points (6.3) and assists (2.5). He had 14 points and 7 assists in the Challenge.

Aguilar, a transfer guard from Division III Bethel University (MN), provided another long-range threat on the roster, posting a 43.8 three-point percentage in 21 games played.

Renta, the lone true sophomore on the roster, gave the Huskies a slashing threat offensively and quickness defensively. Renta started the final six games of last season and averaged over eight points and a steal per game. The lone transfer brought in by Henderson and Co. is Craig Steele. Steele comes to St. Cloud State after four seasons at Division III UW-La Crosse, where he capped his career as an Eagle with an Honorable Mention All-Conference honor. The sharpshooter averaged 10.1 points and 36.6% from beyond the arc as a redshirt senior.

With an opportunity to take a sizeable jump in year two, the impact of all seven veterans gives St. Cloud State a greater chance to raise what Henderson calls their “overall competitive level”.

‘Moving This Program Forward’

A plan for the future requires preparation in the short-term, and growth is a serious prerogative for the Huskies. Henderson understands where growth has come and where the team will thrive this season, and the Huskies got their first look at what this year’s roster can provide last weekend.

“Anytime you can open with two Division II wins you have to be pleased. It certainly wasn’t the prettiest basketball at times, but we did play with an edge,” said Henderson. “Different guys stepped up both nights, and that likely will be our M.O. through most of the year”.

The Huskies’ likely modus operandi makes this weekend’s team effort likely not a one-off performance. Four different players scored in double figures in each game, and six different individuals scored in double figures.

With a retooled roster, Henderson sees positive takeaways from a productive offseason coming to fruition sooner rather than later: “The overall competitive level of the team has improved from a season ago. The returners all came back in great shape after solid summers, and the collection of new guys took their summers seriously as well,” said Henderson. “In year two there is a better understanding of the systems and the standard. That has led to a productive preseason, and we hope this will translate to some great basketball for the St. Cloud Community moving forward”.

Next Up…

St. Cloud State makes its home debut on Saturday, Nov. 18, taking on the Minnesota State-Mankato Mavericks, who were picked to finish 2nd in the NSIC preseason poll.

The Huskies are looking to buck an unsuccessful trend against the Mavericks, seeking their first win against Mankato since Jan.19, 2019, and their first win at home against Mankato since Feb. 3, 2018.

While not counted as an official conference game, Henderson still understands the implications of the matchup: “I am expecting a great game this weekend… Their roster is loaded, and they had a great opening weekend down in Kansas City. We got beat up a bit in last year’s matches. Our group is going to have to be ready for the overall physicality of the NSIC. “

With a blend of new and old, and another year to establish the system and the standards, the Huskies are looking for their first season over .500 since the 2018-19 season.

A win over the Mavericks would be a step in the right direction.