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Rockets upbeat about their chances in MAC

10/06/2016, 12:34am EDT
By By BRIAN BUCKEY BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Toledo has deep, versatile team in 2016-17

Rockets upbeat about their chances in MAC

Toledo men’s basketball coach Tod Kowalczyk speaks to part of his team during Wednesday’s practice at Savage Arena. BLADE/ANDY MORRISON

With official practices under way, the University of Toledo men’s basketball team begins this season with a deep and skilled roster coach Tod Kowalczyk said features as many as 11 players competing for significant playing time.

Led by a group of four seniors — Jonathan Williams, Jordan Lauf, Zach Garber and Marquette transfer Steve Taylor — the Rockets think they can contend in the rapidly improving Mid-American Conference.

“I think we are very deep and very versatile,” Williams said. “We have shooters, we have people that can run the floor, people that can rebound well. We have every piece to the puzzle.”

After a season in which Toledo finished 17-15 overall and 8-10 in the MAC, Kowalczyk said a league championship always is the preseason goal. The Rockets haven’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1980. Their last regular-season MAC title was in 2013-14.

“I think our expectations every year are to compete for a championship,” Kowalczyk said. “Now we need to do it. We’ve won regular season championships, but we have to go out and play like we know we can.”

The Rockets lost only one senior, Nathan Boothe, from last season.

“I feel confident in the leadership,” Kowalczyk said. “Last year we had one senior, and now we have four seniors and four veteran guys who have been through it. Four voices is a lot better than having one senior. I’ve been happy with our leadership and I’ve been happy with our team chemistry.”

In the backcourt, Toledo will have to replace point guard Stuckey Mosley, who transferred to James Madison.

Mosley’s replacement will come from a mix of junior college transfers and underclassmen. Kowalczyk said junior college transfers Lucas Antunez and Daniel Dzierzawski, sophomore Jaelan Sanford and freshman Justin Roberts all will compete for the job.

The addition of Taylor, at 6-foot-9 and 240 pounds, will give the Rockets more muscle in the frontcourt.

“This year Steve Taylor brings a physicality and a toughness,” Kowalczyk said. “He’s a very good rebounder and has been for his career, but he’s also a guy that can bring the ball down the floor and initiate. He likes contact. He can post up. If he doesn’t lead the MAC in free-throw attempts, I told him it’s his fault. He’s going to get fouled a lot.”

Also expected to see time in the frontcourt are redshirt freshman Luke Knapke and sophomores Nate Navigato and Taylor Adway.

“We haven’t had scoring ability coming off the bench since Jon Jon Williams was a freshman,” Kowalczyk said. “This year we have some options that can come off the bench and score for us and impact the game defensively.”

With depth at each position, the players are optimistic this team can compete for a MAC title.

“We have high expectations in house for ourselves,” Lauf said. “We just have to continue to get better every day. We know what our goals are, and we have to work every day to get better.”

Williams said the pursuit of a MAC championship and a trip to the NCAA tournament has motivated him since he was a freshman.

“It drives me every day, and I’ve been trying to transfer that over to the whole team,” Williams said. “I’ve been here for four years. This is my senior year, and my sense of urgency is out the roof right now. Every year we had a chance to win a MAC championship with the team and the talent that we had and I think this year, with discipline, we can get there.”

Contact Brian Buckey at: bbuckey@theblade.com or 419-724-6110.

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Toledo’s Jonathan Williams, right, drives as teammate Jaelan Sanford defends during Wednesday’s practice. BLADE/ANDY MORRISON

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