Transferring from a scholarship basketball program into a nonscholarship program isn’t always as simple as it sounds.
Pat Miller, who has spent the better part of the past two decades keeping UW-Whitewater’s men’s program among the top in the country, knows the potential pratfalls well.
“Division I transfers, high-level transfers, rarely are really good right away,” Miller said last week. “I think oftentimes they underestimate the level. They think they’re coming down and don’t have to work as hard.”
Miller also understands the upside of such players.
And he’ll be looking to get the most out of a lineup that is littered with them when the Warhawks open their season Friday night at home against nationally ranked Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.
Most notably, UW-W returns Chris Jones—the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference’s leading scorer last year—along with Scotty Tyler and Derek Rongstad as a core nucleus from last year’s team that went 22-7, finished second in conference and made the Division III NCAA Tournament.
“Chris has been much better this year understanding the system, and his work ethic has improved,” Miller said. “Scotty’s stronger and in better shape. He’s playing more physical around the basket.
“When they’re going well, there’s not very many players around that are as good as them.”
Jones is a preseason honorable DIII All-American. His path did not include transferring from a scholarship school, but it was winding nonetheless. He averaged 17.9 points and 3.4 assists per game as a junior.
Tyler started 24 of 26 games last year after transferring from UW-Milwaukee. He averaged 14.4 points and a team-best 6.0 rebounds.
And Rongstad joined his former UW-Milwaukee teammate in Whitewater, transferring at semester and averaging 11.1 points and finishing with a team-best 32 steals in 20 games.
“Coming in at semester, he did as well as he possibly could under those circumstances,” Miller said. “They’re obviously a big key to our roster. But having said that, we’ve got a lot of guys around them that are really good.”
Junior guard Andre Brown is the only returner that appeared in all 29 games last year. His presence means the Warhawks return their top four leading scorers.
Senior Jerry Ngobi, a Janesville Craig graduate, has been a vocal leader for the Warhawks and can play either guard position. Fellow Craig grad Riley Jensen, a sophomore, has filled out his 6-foot-10 frame and gives Miller a double dose of post options along with 7-1 sophomore Noah Kaminski.
Junior Mitchell Pfeifer averaged double-digit minutes last year, and Miller has added more transfers in David Sachs (Division II Barry University), Dalton Menke (Rock Valley College) and Tyler Lindquist (Madison College).
“We think we can go deep,” Miller said. “If we can go nine or 10 deep ... that can be an advantage.”
The Warhawks allowed opponents to shoot 44.7 percent from the field and 33.2 percent from 3-point range last year. Miller says an improved defense will be key to building on a season that included an NCAA Tournament win over Northwestern (Minnesota).
“We weren’t very good defensively and weren’t very good in defensive transition,” Miller said. “The team lacked some maturity in understanding once they got a lead, how to put people away and extend the lead. From what I see so far, we appear to be better in those areas.”
Whitewater was ranked No. 11 in the nation in the D3Hoops.com poll. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps is No. 15, so the Warhawks will be tested from the jump.
They’re picked to finish second in the WIAC behind UW-River Falls in a poll of the league’s coaches and athletic directors.
After four straight home games to open the season, UW-W won’t play at home again until the conference season begins in January.