An Independent Summer
IPFW is seemingly on the verge of conference affiliation with two spots opening up in the Mid-Continent Conference by the start of the 2007-2008 season. But now, as summer workouts rage on in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the ever-changing roster continues to do just that and change. There still are the familiar and solid faces like seniors Quintin Carouthers and Justin Hawkins and juniors DeWitt Scott and Zeljko Egeric, but no other Mastodon has seen more than a year of service in blue and white at this school.
But there at the small forward, where Carouthers, Hawkins and Scott are all fit best is where IPFW is clearly the strongest. Their center Tyler Best (Lafayette, IN) had a mediocre junior year plagued with injuries while Egeric (Split, Croatia) and junior-to-be Armend Ademi (Pristina, Kosovo) have proven very little on the Division I stage with a team who has only three players over 6'9'' and none taller than 6'10''.
Even worse, the team is currently very light in the point guard position, which they were too deep in last season. Since the end of a ten-win 2005-2006 campaign (the first double digit winning season in the school's four year D1 history), the team has lost four point guards. D.J. Posley (Chicago, IL), a high school teammate of Kansas standout Julian Wright, transferred to a community college at the end of his freshman season and starting point man Brad Pompey has also recently left the team for undisclosed personal reasons.
While Posley only averaged 3.2 points and just around 13 minutes per contest, he did play significantly toward the end of the season. Pompey averaged 28.4 minutes/game in his only season at IPFW, averaging 8.7 points and leading the team with 55 assists.
Summertime has also brought about injuries with sophomores-to-be Kyle Savely (Corydon, IN) and Jakari Johnson (Grand Rapids, MI) nursing injured an injured wrist and thumb respectively. Fife said that the two have an unknown return timetable.
So Fife has been forced to turn to the untested in the form of freshman walk-on Keevan Miller (New Albany, IN - Providence HS) to lead the way. Miller may even be the starter for the Mastodons when the season rolls around this October. He has been in Fort Wayne since June 12 working with the team and getting into the flow with the fast-paced Mastodon squad that is on the brink of a major break with the Mid-Continent conference, who's officials will visit the campus this week.
IPFW has lost seven players from last year's opening day roster. Pompey and Posley as previously mentioned, junior Mohamed Esseghir left mid-season for personal reasons, freshmen walk-ons Brandon Schumm and Andy Stroud were dismissed from the team mid-season, a third walk-on Warren Wallace left this off season and senior-to-be Kevin Nelson was recently dismissed from the team. Nelson was a red-shirt last season after a move from Central Michigan where he was the team leading scorer and MVP as a junior.
“I think our goal for these first two years is to get the word out. We want to let people know who we are. I don’t ever want to have to go somewhere out west and people ask who are we and if we are Division I,” Fife said. “And that’s subsiding, but we just have to market this and there are going to be some tough roads.”
Other players next season will include Miller, JuCo recruits Pat Lepper and Jaraun "Keno" Burrows, freshman combo guard Chris Perkins (Triton Central HS – Chicago, IL) and Demetrius Johnson, who red shirted last season after transferring from Kent State. Burrows, a native of the Bahamas, leads the incoming class as a NJCAA 2nd Team All-American a year ago at in Volunteer State Community College in Tennessee.
“It is unbelievable for us to get him. He is a high level player who plays his butt off,” Fife said of Burrows.
Terry Jenkins (Muncie Central HS - Muncie, IN) will also join the team as a walk-on. The team will also have two new assistant coaches to replace Jermaine Kimbrough (Cleveland State) and Joel Cotton (Anderson University) in Terry Johnson (formerly of Butler) and Dan Bere, who served as a graduate assistant last season.
Their just released 2006-2007 schedule will be a tough one for a still young team with trips to Notre Dame, Air Force, Michigan State and Utah State. The team will also host Indiana State and play home and home games with Valparaiso, IUPUI and Western Illinois. Still, Fife seems upbeat about the program's chances of making a big run this coming season and proving that he and IPFW belong playing with the big boys.
“We take pride in feeling like we can beat these teams and I think we showed it last year,” Fife said.
Last year, IPFW hung with Michigan State for much of their contest, had a chance to beat Notre Dame at the buzzer and even knocked off then 8-1 Indiana State in Terre Haute.
A decision about IPFW’s potential Mid-Continent Conference future is expected before the season kicks off in November. The conference officials officially visit IPFW from August 2-4 and then will make visits with South Dakota State and North Dakota State in August.
“It looks great, it really does and I think we are in great shape.” Fife said about IPFW’s Mid-Con hopes. “We are pleased with where we are at with our development.