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OPINION Luke Hagen column: Dakota Wesleyan University men's basketball team will need new identity next season

The Dakota Wesleyan men's basketball team has announced nearly all of its offseason recruits, coach Shane Murphy said recently.

The Tigers have signed 18 players to help build a roster that lost five seniors from last year's team, a group that won two national tournament games. Besides losing three seniors, Murphy said Avon native Matt Dykstra and Patrick Draisey won't be returning to the team.

Seven players who helped Murphy achieve an immense amount of first-year success will no longer be playing for the team, most notably All-American forward Brady Wiebe, who was named the Great Plains Athletic Conference men's basketball player of the year.

Wiebe started all 33 games last year and contributed almost 30 percent of the team's scoring and rebounding. Wiebe averaged 19 points and nine rebounds per game.

This begs the question, who will be Dakota Wesleyan's standout player next year? Who will Murphy call upon when there's a clutch moment and the team needs a bucket?

Right now, Murphy said he's not sure who the go-to player will be, but there are options.

"There may be some growing pains as we go through these changes," Murphy said. "Because of what we graduated last year, and the fact that Brady Wiebe has been such a central part of this thing for the last couple years, we are going to go through an identity change."

When looking at the success the Dakota Wesleyan men's basketball team has had for the last five years, the team has always had at least one player that could be looked at as the go-to guy.

Brock Seim, Preston Broughton, Darrin Dorsey and Wiebe have each been the crucial part of the offense during their tenures at Dakota Wesleyan. All four earned All-American status and were essential parts in the university's five straight trips to the national tournament.

When looking at what the Tigers bring back from last year's team, mainly role players stand out. Last season, Justin Nelson, Jordan Long and German Madueno each had at least 15 starts, but each had single-digit scoring averages. Bo LaCroix had two starts last year and Jake Kneeland had four, and both averaged about one basket per game.

Besides the returners, Dakota Wesleyan's landed 15 high school freshmen, three of whom have great potential to step in and contribute immediately. Worthington, Minn., native Jalen Voss -- a 6-foot-7 forward -- averaged 18.9 points and 11.4 rebounds per game in his final high school year. Voss was Murphy's first recruit of the offseason.

Corsica/Stickney's Luke Bamberg and Kris Menning also could have an impact right away. Menning averaged 18 points, eight rebounds and three assists, while Bamberg averaged 12 points, eight rebounds and five assists to help the Jaguars to the Class B state title.

By looking at the stats, Voss and the Corsica/Stickney duo are all known scorers. But is it too much for a true freshman to join a team and become the focal point of the offense and be the leader in the clutch?

"I think it's a lot to ask, but I wouldn't rule it out by any means," Murphy said.

Murphy compiled 154 wins in seven years at the University of Sioux Falls before coming to Dakota Wesleyan, but in his tenure with the Cougars, he said he never had a player out of high school become the team's main difference-maker immediately.

"I've had some true freshmen step up and really do some good things for us," Murphy said. "But for a guy to step up and be that go-to guy in crucial times, I can't think of anyone off the top of my head."

Thursday, DWU announced the signing of three more recruits, and all have played college basketball elsewhere in the past.

Could one of them be this year's Dorsey, a one-year player for DWU who was also the GPAC player of the year and was named an All-American? Maybe, but the chances of another Dorsey-like player thrilling the Corn Palace regularly is slim.

Whether it's a returning player, an incoming freshman or a transfer player, Dakota Wesleyan will need a go-to player to maintain its recent success and continue its streak of making the national tournament.

But the best chance for long-term success is for a freshman recruit, such as Voss, Menning, Bamberg or one of the other 12 high school recruits the school announced earlier this week, to come in and become the team's leader -- even if that means an identity change and some growing pains.