The expectations for the IPFW men's basketball program among its peers aren't much if you buy into the Summit League pre-season poll that was released on Wednesday. However, that would not be an accurate assessment within the Gates Sports Center.
The Mastodons were projected to finish sixth in the nine-team league, trailing South Dakota State, North Dakota State, Oakland, Western Illinois, and IUPUI.
A big reason that the IPFW coaches believe that their team's potential is higher than projected by others is the return of – and development of – Mario Hines.
“He's been pretty good,” Mastodon coach Tony Jasick said of Hines practices thus far this season. “He's continuing to make the necessary changes and really kind of transformed himself. From where he was a year ago, through last season and to now, he's a different guy.”
The 6-foot-8 forward showed spurts of great ability last season, but also had periods of vanishing. He finished his first season at the NCAA Division I level with averages of over seven points and nearly five rebounds per game, all while leading his team in blocks (20). All of those numbers are even more impressive given that he played just more than 18 minutes per night.
“He's made the adjustment of the daily grind of practicing the right way,” Jasick said. “He prepares the right way and (now) has the discipline to do the right things both offensively and defensively.”
Adjusting to coaching styles has been a challenge for Hines due to the fact that he played for two different junior colleges following high school, so IPFW last season was his fourth different program in four seasons.
“This process is all new to him,” Jasick said. “He's been kind of a one-year guy, and now just being in the same program going on year two and being around the same coaches and players and getting that discipline, he's really grown.”
Hines physically has evolved through diligence in the weight room and that increased strength and athleticism should pay dividends this season. With that physical development came confidence and Hines is beginning to assert himself in subtle ways during the early practices.
“Now that he is in a role where he understands a lot of the drills,” Jasick explained, “he is being that guy who is first in line in a drill, as opposed to the guy who was in the back of the line, kind of shying away in the past.”
Gaines gets recognized
The lone IPFW player to garner recognition in the conference pre-season poll on Wednesday was fifth-year guard Frank Gaines.
The 6-foot-3 slasher was named as a member of the first team, as he was following last year.
Gaines averaged 21 points per game last winter and also led the Mastodons in rebounding (5.9 per game) and steals (41).
He is the first player in program history to earn this honor.
Help is on the way
IPFW received its first verbal commitment of the 2013 season on Wednesday, as the Lafayette Journal and Courier reported that former Lafayette Jefferson High School guard Rashad Richardson declared his intent to play for the Mastodons.
“I felt like the best opportunity for me presented itself with IPFW,” Richardson told the Journal and Courier. “They fit my playing style. It's close to home. The level of competition they play is the best, which is what I want to play. Everything lined up correctly and I couldn't say no.”
Richardson is currently attending prep school (The Kiski School) in Pennsylvania, and also said that he intended to redshirt the 2013-14 season in Fort Wayne.
The 6-foot-5 combo guard averaged nearly 24 points and nine rebounds for the Bronchos as a senior and was named the Journal and Courier's Big School Player of the Year.
“If everything goes as planned, then I have a really bright future ahead,” Richardson said.