The University of Montana Western men's basketball team is on their way to starting the 2022-23 season this week after a third-place finish in Frontier conference play last season. The Bulldogs will start their season with a road stand in California where they will face Cal-Maritime and Menlo College. After going 18-12 on their regular season, the Bulldogs lost in the semifinals of the Frontier Conference tournament to Montana Tech by only two points. In a preseason poll of Frontier Conference men's basketball coaches, Carroll College was the pick to win the 2022-2023 league title, with the Bulldogs coming in just behind Montana Tech in third overall, claiming 17 total votes.
"I feel really good about this year's team. Only losing 2 players from last year's roster gives us a ton of experience coming back". Head Coach Mike Larsen stated. "With Ky, Jamal, Tanner, Michael, Jok, and Colter all coming back after a great summer, they are poised to push our young guys to be ready to compete early on in the season. We also have redshirts from last season that had great summers and I think they are going to really help us with our depth this year. I am really excited about this group they have come in this year with the right mindset and now it's time to put in on the floor and see what they can accomplish."
The Bulldogs are returning all but two from last season's squad. The Bulldogs lost All-America Honorable Mention Jalen Hodges, the 6-4 senior from Duluth, Ga. who started in 26 of 29 games last season. He averaged 16.1 points a game, shot 52 percent from the field, averaged 5.3 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game. The Bulldogs also graduated second team all-conference senior Max Clark who continued on to become a two-time all-conference player for the Bulldogs that averaged 14.1 points per game, 5.6 rebounds per game, and shot 47.9% from the floor during his senior season.
Of the returners, the Bulldogs are returning second team all-conference guard Jamal Stephenson. Jamal was voted preseason all-conference by a poll of the conference coaches. Last season, Stephenson played in 28 games and started in 23. He averaged 16.6 points per game with a total of 345 points on the season. He shot 36% from the three-point line with a total of 54 three-pointers made on the season. He led the conference with an 87.0% free throw percentage and was a three-time backcountry player of the game. "Jamal had a really strong showing his junior year and has come back with a very solid mindset. He has the ability to lead this team every night and I think we will see that this year." Larsen said.
The Bulldogs are also returning brothers Tanner Haverfield and Michael Haverfield. Last season, Tanner played in 28 games, starting in 27, while averaging 8.0 points per game. He shot 41.2% from the three-point line, averaged 4.4 rebounds per game, and 2.1 assists per game. Michael averaged 8.0 points per game as he shot 43.7% from the field. He also shot 44.7% from the three-point line and picked up 2.1 rebounds per game. "Tanner has been our leader for four years and I don't see that changing this season. I think he will embrace his roll and continue to lead our team in any way he can. Michael is poised to have a great year after a solid 'Freshmen' campaign. He is one of the most consistent players in our program and I think this is going to be his best year yet." Larsen said.
Ky Kouba and Jok Jok will be returning this season. Last season, Kouba was a true freshman who played in 29 games, starting in eight. He led the Bulldogs from the three-point line as he shot 46.0% on the season and 48.8% from the field. Jok averaged 5.6 points per game, tallied 30 blocks, and 155 total rebounds last season for an average of 5.3 per game. "Ky is another guy that had a great year last season and has come back stronger and in better shape. He now knows what college basketball is about and I think he will have an even better sophomore year. Jok finished the season last year as our most important defender with an ability to block every shot. He also came back ready to compete and help our team this season." Larsen said.
The Bulldogs were able to ink three transfers. Brenton Woods joins the Bulldogs as a transfer from Central Arizona College and a 2019 graduate of Dominguez High School. He is a 6'2" guard that averaged 16.1 points per game last season. Woods was fifth overall in the ACCAC (NJCAA) in free throw percentage (84.6%), sixth in three-point percentage (40.2%), and tenth in three pointers (68-169). He also ranked fifth in the conference in total assists (149). He is an explosive guard that will add to the 2022-23 squad.
Christian Pitcher joins the Bulldogs this season. Pitcher is a 2019 graduate of Berean Christian Academy in Walnut Creek, Calif. who joins the Bulldogs as a transfer from Chabot College where he averaged nine points per game and five rebounds per game last season. During the 2019-20 season at Lewis & Clark College, Pitcher averaged 7.3 points per game and had a total of 51 rebounds on the season. At Berean Christian, Pitcher averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds during his high school campaign and earned first team all-league honors three years in a row. Standing at 6'7", Pitcher will bring size and athleticism to the forward position for the Bulldogs.
Jaden Graham joins the Bulldogs and returns to his home state as he transfers from The Master's University (Calif.). Graham is a 6'5 redshirt sophomore guard and forward. Last season at The Master's University, Graham averaged 5.6 points per game, shot 40.2% from the field, 81.0% from the free throw line, and totaled 55 rebounds, 14 assists, and 7 blocks.
"Brenton is a great point guard that can find his teammates any time they come open. He is also a great scorer and I think he compliments our returners really nicely. Christian is a really solid player that gives us some much-needed size and strength at our forward position. He the ability to stretch the floor as well as move around and use his skills to score in other ways. Jaden is another really good transfer to add to our team this year. He will give us a lot of length and athleticism to our guard position." Larsen said.
The Bulldogs open their season this Saturday Oct. 29 on the road as they will be facing off with California Maritime Academy at 5:30 PM hosted by Menlo College. They will also take on Menlo College on Sunday Oct. 30 to cap off the trip to California. The Bulldog's first home game will be on Nov. 11 against Dickinson State for the Western Classic. Click here to view the full 2022-23 schedule.