UW-Whitewater junior Alex Merg is among four returning starters who are expected to give the Warhawks men’s basketball team a deep and versatile backcourt during the 2012-12 season. (Bob Mischka photo)

By Dan Truttschel


The magical run that took the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater men’s basketball team to last year’s NCAA Division III championship will always be a special time in the school’s and program’s history.

But as far as head coach Pat Miller is concerned, it’s time to stop looking backward and focus straight ahead.

There are new challenges to tackle.

Whitewater enters the 2012-2013 season with questions from a year ago, but entering play this week, the Warhawks had a perfect 4-0 record in non-conference play.

Prior to victory on the road Tuesday at Illinois Wesleyan, which also advanced to the Final Four last year, Whitewater owned wins over Beloit College, Aurora University and Carthage College.

The final two wins came at last weekend’s Carthage Classic tournament. Whitewater began play this week ranked third in NCAA Division III.

“We’ve made improvements every game, which has been positive,” Miller said. “Beloit was rough. We were down 17-3 to start the game and didn’t play very well. Then we made some pretty dramatic improvements against Aurora.

“(The focus is) just continuing to get better and progressing. We knew what we would get out of our returning players. It’s just a matter of bringing around our new additions. Those guys are making progress.”

One constant is his team’s effort, which has been solid, Miller.

“We’re definitely moving in the right direction,” he said. “We have a group that’s playing hard and playing well together. That’s where you need to be at this point.”

In the 74-69 win over Carthage, Eric Bryson led the Warhawks with 19 points, followed by K.J. Evans with 15 and Quardell Young with 11.

Bryson is an Elkhorn product who many area fans had a chance to watch excel during his high school career.

That hasn’t changed in college, Miller said.

“He’s doing great,” Miller said. “He’s turned himself into a very complete player. He’s a good, instinctive player.

“He makes a lot of plays off the ball. He’s been a great addition to our program. We couldn’t be happier with the way he’s played.”

And it’s not always the statistics that jump of the page with Bryson, Miller said, but more what he does in other areas to help the Warhawks.

“I don’t know if he gets enough credit,” Miller said. ‘He’s not going to knock you out with his numbers, but he does so many things during the course of the game to help you win.”

One thing is certain, and that’s Whitewater will be challenged by its non-conference schedule, Miller said.

“We definitely want to play non-conference games against good programs that are going to prepare us for conference play,” he said. “Both Carthage and Illinois Wesleyan are great preparation games. It helps us progress as a team to see where we’re at.”

And just where the Warhawks are remains to be seen. Miller said he won’t know just how good this team can be until it has some more games under its belt down the road.

“It’s a tough question to answer,” he said. “I think we can be pretty good. The work ethic is there. I like what I see in practice. I like the way guys are trying to play together. There’s a lot of positives with this group.

“The question is will they continue to progress? We have a lot of guys who are going to be back with the program (next year), so there’s a lot of incentive for them to get better for the future.”

Turning the page

The national championship run last year obviously brought Miller and his team plenty of notoriety and accolades.

But he knows it’s time to move forward – and close that chapter.

“As a program, we have done that, as players, we have, but everyone (else) is gearing to play you,” Miller said. “Teams are coming in with an incentive.

“A lot of people talk to the players about it. We just have to put that behind us and get ready to face the new challenge in front of us.”

And what comes soon is a journey through the always challenging Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Whitewater won the title last year at 13-3, followed by River Falls and Stevens Point at 12-4 and La Crosse, Platteville and Superior at 8-8.

It’s too early to tell which team will take the lead toward the title this year, Miller said, but he expects another battle to the finish.

“It’s a great league,” he said. “The strength of the league from top to bottom is great. There’s not very many nights off. We just don’t have that in our league.

“The league is very well coached. All the teams have good players. You have to be ready to go or you’ll get beat.”





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