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Cougar men open Monday at home

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Christopher Butler

UMM Sports Information

If ever losing two returning all-conference players for the season can be a good thing for a basketball team, then it happened last year for the University of Minnesota, Morris men. By the fifth game, they had lost the services of guard Eric Dalbey and forward Phil Allen, who had led the UMAC in scoring in 2007-2008.

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But in their absence, head coach Paul Grove oversaw the maturation of a host of younger players, all of whom are coming back this season to join a healthy and renewed Allen and Dalbey. Thus it is that UMM can say they have all five returning starters in the lineup.

Not that 2008-2009 was a total wash either. Even without Allen and Dalbey, the Cougars made the UMAC tournament. Posting a 14-13 record (9-5 in conference), they were competitive in all their games and placed three underclassmen on the All-UMAC squad, while four other first-year players saw significant playing time.

Grove calls this year's team the "best I've had in terms of running the ball and overall speed," which he expects to create a better defensive team.

"We'll also be deeper than we've been in past years," he says. "We'll be able to keep the pace of the game up and keep pressure on opposing defenses."

Back court

Dalbey will lead a backcourt along with two all-conference returners: guards Kendall Proell of Osakis and Dan Fragodt of Benson, who combined for better than 23 points a game. Fragodt was named to the conference all-defensive team.

"Froggy won't run big stats, but he is a great all-around player," Grove says. "He gets the loose ball and a basket when we need it."

Meanwhile, Proell and Dalbey will provide an excellent 1-2 scoring punch on the perimeter.

"They can shoot from long range and take it to the hoop."

Joey Fragodt will also see increased minutes this season, much in the same vain as his brother, Dan: hustling defense and excellent court transition on offense.

"Joe is an outstanding defender, who has suddenly become a stopper, Grove said. "He will draw some very tough assignments this season."

Joining the veterans will be first-year player Ryan Denny who can play point and two-guard. The six-footer was a 1,000-point scorer and three-time all-conference at Bertha-Hewitt High School.

Grove also expects solid minutes from another triumvirate of guards: sophomore Clay Fischer and first years Ben Hoidal and Logan Orazem.

Frontcourt

In the paint, Allen returns to join some excellent young company. Sophomore post Zach Meyer was first-team all-UMAC last year scoring nearly 11 points a game while pulling down better than five rebounds.

"Zach has great touch inside," Grove said. "He has gotten much tougher in the middle. I expect Zach to have another great season."

Sophomore Mitch Primus blocked 81 shots last season, good for third best in all of Division III. He is rehabbing an off-season injury, but Grove expects his formidable inside presence to return midseason.

Kyle Bruns of Brandon played in all 27 games last year, displaying a soft offensive touch and defensive toughness in the middle. Grove expects more of the same this year from the sophomore.

Transfer Derek Schmidt will bring additional athleticism to the inside play.

"He gets to the rim very quickly," Grove said. "He could become a post defender. Derek can do a lot inside and out and that will definitely help us."

Grove will be joined on the sidelines for the second season by assistant coach and former Southwest Minnesota State standout, Eli Starzl. They will have additional coaching help from students Kyle Matuska and Jeremy Bosch.

The Cougar men kick off the 2009-2010 season at home against Concordia-Moorhead on Monday, Nov. 16 with a 7 p.m. tipoff at the P.E. Center.

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