FAIRBANKS — With three starters the only returning players for the Alaska men’s basketball team, it didn’t figure the Nanooks would get a whole lot of respect in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference preseason poll.
That proved to be true when the poll was released Monday as the Nanooks are picked to finish in a tie for eighth place with Saint Martin’s University in a vote of the 10 GNAC coaches.
“Based on our finish last year, I didn’t expect us to be picked too high,” second-year Nanooks coach Mick Durham said in a press release.
“The top teams are very good with a lot of returnees,” Durham said. “With us having so many new guys, we’re built around three veteran guys I feel are solid returnees, so we’re definitely going to be a challenge to play in the GNAC.”
The Nanooks play in arguably the toughest NCAA Division II conference where defending national champion Western Washington is picked to finish second to perennial powerhouse Seattle Pacific. SPU garnered eight first place votes in the coaches balloting, while Western Washington was picked No. 2.
Central Washington, Alaska Anchorage, Montana State Billings, Western Oregon and Northwest Nazarene are picked to finish ahead of the Nanooks and Saint Martin’s. Simon Fraser landed in the No. 10 spot.
Junior forward Stefan Tica was named to the 15-player preseason all-conference team. Tica scored in double figures in 21 of 27 games last season and finished his sophomore campaign averaging 14.6 points per game.
“He definitely deserves being mentioned,” Durham said. “I also think our other two returners are capable, but Stef had some big games in the league last year and got people’s attention.”
Senior guard Dominique Brinson and junior center Sergej Pucar also return for the Nanooks. Brinson averaged 12.6 points per game and Pucar chipped in 11.9 points and grabbed 5.2 rebounds per game.
The three returning players accounted for 56 percent of the Nanooks scoring last season and 36 percent of the team’s rebounds.
Durham is trying to integrate 13 new faces, including seven transfers, with the three starters.
The Nanooks went 5-23 last season and finished last in the conference with a 2-16 record.
“I’m please with what I’ve seen from our guys in the preseason,” Durham said. “Our players will be determined to beat that prediction.”
Durham will put the Nanooks on display for the first time in the Blue/Gold scrimmage at 7 p.m. Nov. 1 in the Patty Center.
The Nanooks open the season at 3 p.m. Nov. 9 against Colorado State Pueblo in the opening game of the AT&T Alascom Jamboree in Anchorage. Alaska’s first home game is against Cal State Monterey Bay on the opening day of the GCI Alaska Invitational at
7:30 p.m. Nov. 15 in the Patty Center.
The poll and the complete preseason all-conference team are in today’s Sports Scoreboard on page D2.