Todd Duncan has a mantra for Lubbock Christian University’s men’s basketball program: faces change, but expectations don’t.
This is particularly relevant right now. The Chaparrals, 27-4 last season, said goodbye to five of their top six scorers, three of whom averaged more than 15 points per game.
On the other hand, returning forward Rowan Mackenzie and three integrated transfers from other college programs all posted double-digit averages last season. One of the transfers is former Monterey star Russell Harrison, whose appeal to play this season at Oklahoma State was rejected. The NCAA ruled in mid-September that Harrison’s Division I eligibility “clock” had run out, but he is eligible to play at a lower level.
“We’ve known Russell for a long time and followed his career,” Duncan said this week, “and when we had the opportunity to get involved, we were excited. He’s been great for us. He’s such a smart player , and he’s played in so many great games that he brings a lot of leadership to our team and experience.”
Coaches, sports news directors and media who cover the Lone Star Conference are betting Duncan can make a quick rebuild. They picked the LCU third out of 16 teams in the LSC preseason poll. LCU is ranked No. 16 and No. 24 in both major NCAA Division II polls.
“I want these guys to come in expecting to compete,” Duncan said, “and hopefully they continue to play to the standard that we’ve set here over the past few years.”
LCU is providing guidance this weekend in Denver, one of the sites for the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference/Lone Star Conference Challenge, an annual season-opening event. The Chaps face Regis (20-10 last season) at 8 p.m. Friday and Colorado School of Mines (16-11) at 5 p.m. Saturday.
LCU has made the NCAA Division II tournament three of the past four years and won the Lone Star Conference regular season championship each of the past two seasons. The losses of personnel are however heavy.
Gone are All-America D-II forward Parker Hicks, who averaged 19.3 ppg, Lloyd Daniels (16.1 ppg), and second-team All-LSC guard Aamer Muhammad (15, 3 points per game). The same goes for outpost Jalen Brattain (7.8 ppg) and forward Zach Stepp (4.5 ppg), who were part-time starters.
Hicks, Daniels and Stepp have completed their eligibility. Muhammad was transferred to Division I Troy and Brattain was transferred to D-II Chaminade.
But Mackenzie, the 6-foot-3 Australian who averaged 11.4 points and 4.6 rebounds as a junior last season, won’t be alone. Duncan has surrounded his best returnee with a few experienced scorers: Harrison, a starter for the past two years at Louisiana-Monroe, and junior college transfers Najeeb Muhammad and Kurt Wegscheider.
Muhammad, a 6-1 point guard from Las Vegas, Nevada, spent the past two seasons at Arizona Western, where he averaged 12.2 points and 4.8 assists in 2020-21 and 11.0 points and 5.0 assists last season.
Wegscheider, a 6-4 multi-position player from the Central African Republic, averaged 14.2 points and 4.2 rebounds last season at Utah State Eastern, an NJCAA program. He spent his first two seasons in New Mexico, playing 36 games off the bench and averaging 10.5 minutes and 2.3 points per game.
Duncan compared Muhammad to former LCU guard Rashad Sample and said Wegscheider shares some traits with former Chaps forward Eli Baker.
“Najeeb is kind of your prototypical playmaker – go first, but he’s lightning fast, kind of like a Rashad Sample back in the day,” Duncan said. He described Wegscheider as an undersized striker or post player, “but can also handle it and even went to UNM as a point guard. He’s played all over the field. He can kind of be everything. what we need it to be.”
LCU will be the fifth varsity program for Harrison, the 6-7 swingman who has made stops at Wayland Baptist, Clarendon College, Louisiana-Monroe and Oklahoma State. Harrison averaged 14.1 points and 5.9 rebounds as a Wayland rookie in 2016-17. After missing the next two seasons, he averaged 18.3 points and 8.2 rebounds for Clarendon College in 2019-20, earning NJCAA All-American First Team honors and Player of the Year at NJCAA. the Western Junior College Athletic Conference.
He started the last two years at ULM, averaging 12.5 points and 6.1 rebounds in 2020-21 and 13.3 points and 5.5 rebounds in 2021-22. He went to Oklahoma State as a graduate transfer, then came to the LCU when the NCAA declined his bid to play this season for the Cowboys.
“Division I, your ‘clock’ (of eligibility) is starting, so to speak, and you have so many years to play,” Duncan said. “In Division II, you have so many semesters to play. So the fact that he took time away from school made it this unique situation for Division II against Division I.”
Duncan said his starting lineup this weekend will have Harrison, Mackenzie, Wegscheider, returning keeper Aaron Gonzales and Muhammad. Gonzales, a 6-3 Klein sophomore, averaged 3.5 points in 30 games, mostly as a reserve last season.
Ty Caswell, a 6-7 forward, is entering his fourth year on the program but is on the shelf after undergoing left ankle surgery in September for the second time. Caswell averaged 9.7 and 5.4 rebounds in his first two seasons with the Chaps, starting 47 games, then played just nine games last season due to an ankle problem and rehabilitation after the first operation.
He hopes to return to action in December or January.
Among the Chaps’ promising freshmen are 6-2 guard Kendall Dow, who averaged 19.2 points per game last season at San Antonio Johnson; 6-5 guard Jalen Nettles, a first-team All-District 6-5A winner at North Richland Hills Richland; and 6-8 forward Fletcher MacDonald, who averaged 10.6 points and 8.9 rebounds in the Australian State League.