HAYS – After missing the MIAA Tournament for the first time under head coach Mark Johnson, the Fort Hays State men’s basketball team has a youth movement as they try to return to their former glory.
Four true-freshmen, two redshirt-freshmen and a redshirt-sophomore were on the court Tuesday as the Tigers held their first official practice for the 2020-21 season.
“We’re an awfully young team” said Mark Johnson, who begins his 20th season as the Tigers head coach. “One of the biggest things they’ve got to figure out is how hard you have to play to win at the college level.”
The Tiger coaching staff is excited about the four true freshmen which includes point guard Quinten Rock from Smoky Hill High School in Aurora, Colo., Traejon Davis from Oklahoma City, Haggan Hilgendorf out of Hastings, Neb. and Elijah Nnanabu who will redshirt this season.
“I think they’ve done a pretty good job of figuring things out, the x’s and o’s of what we’re doing” Johnson added. “We’re still working on the consistent effort, intensity, focus and physicality day after day. We’re better today than we were in preseason but to continue to make strides in those departments.”
The four true-freshmen are joined by redshirt freshmen Kaleb Hammeke who was a two-time all-state selection at Hutchinson-Trinity Catholic High School and Devin Walker from Ulysses who missed most of last season after an injury in the preseason.
Gabe Pieschl redshirted last season after transferring to FHSU following one season at Cloud County CC where he averaged 5.1 points and 2.1 rebounds as a freshman.
Senior Jared Vitztum will look to build off a solid junior season in which he led the Tigers at 17.6 points and 7.9 rebounds per game and was named to the All-MIAA Third Team. Vitztum reached double-figures in 22 of their 28 games and shot 51-percent from 3-point range.
He’s joined by fellow seniors Alvin Thompson and Jackson Miller. Thompson played in all but one game last season and averaged 6.0 points per game off the bench in his first season after transferring from Cloud County CC.
Miller will be looking to play a bigger role after playing in 17 games and averaging 1.8 points and 1.2 rebounds following two years at Coffeyville CC.
Nyjee Wright is joined by junior college transfer Jordan Pumphrey as the only juniors on the team.
Wright made starts in 27 of the Tigers 28 games last season and was second on the team in scoring at 10.0 points per game and led the team with 2.5 assists per game. The former Derby standout will miss the first semester games as he recovers from off-season surgery.
Pumphrey averaged 18.4 points per game as a freshman and 16.0 as a sophomore at Cerro Cosa CC in California.
Gilbert Peters and Bjarni Jonsson round out the sophomore class. Peters played in 25 games making one start as a redshirt freshman last season. He averaged 3.8 points and 2.3 rebounds per game while Jonsson appeared in 16 games.
The Tigers are scheduled to begin their season at home against Washburn on Wednesday, November 19.