AURORA, N.Y. – The sixth season of men's basketball at Wells College kicks off this Friday, Nov. 15 as the Express face-off against the Giants of Keystone College on the road at 7:00 p.m. As always, expectations are high for a team that has won 79 contests over the previous five seasons while making the North Eastern Athletic Conference playoffs every year since becoming a varsity sport prior to the 2008-09 athletic season.
In his seventh year at Wells College, Head Coach Joe Wojtylko has dramatically increased the size of his roster from one season ago, carrying 18 players on a roster that was only 12 deep during the NEAC postseason earlier this year. Furthermore, key losses to the Express roster have been limited, with all but one player with 20-plus games played last year returning to the squad in 2013-14.
Last season, the Express fell to the Mustangs of Morrisville State College by a 74-72 margin in the NEAC Championship's title game. The returning players on the Wells roster have faced strong competition in the NEAC postseason – the Mustangs eventually made their way to the Sweet 16 at the NCAA Division III Men's Basketball Tournament - and will certainly carry their experience into this upcoming season.
This year's iteration of the men's basketball team features a triumvirate of captains, including seniors Jonathan Hurtado (Brooklyn, N.Y.) and Al Paul (Elmont, N.Y.). Junior Erich Kaempffe (North Rose, N.Y.) was also voted upon to become a captain by his Express teammates. The three captains have played a combined 80 games for the Express during their tenures at Wells and will provide a depth of experience.
Hurtado ranked second on the squad last year, averaging 16.7 points per game across 24 games played for the Express. A skilled scorer and rebounder, Hurtado ranked second on the team with 5.8 rebounds per game and also chipped in with 42 assists and 34 steals. Paul, who missed time during his junior campaign with an injury, still was able to put up 10.8 points per game for Wells. At the foul line, Paul converted free throws at a team-leading .818 clip and demonstrated his health in the playoffs, ranking second on the Express in postseason scoring (18.0 ppg, 36 points in two games).
Kaempffe has been a valuable weapon off the bench for Wojtylko during his two year career in a Wells uniform. Saddled with an injury during the 2012-13 season, Kaempffe was still able to appear in 33 games as a freshman and sophomore. Last season, Kaempffe led the Express in assist-to-turnover ratio after recording 20 assists opposed to only nine turnovers before being sidelined for the remainder of the season.
Also returning for the Express is senior Jonathan Bonds (Chicago, Ill.). Ranking second all-time in program history with 72 games played, Bonds was a rebounding machine for the Express in 2012-13, leading all Wells players with 7.4 rebounds per game after falling one rebound short of 200 on the year. He also led all players with 21 blocks and averaged 5.6 points per game in 27 games played.
Eight juniors have made the roster for the Express, including returners J.J. Walton (Ocala, Fla.), Ryan Hood (Massillon, Ohio) and Salvatore Fabozzi (Staten Island, N.Y.). Walton played in all 27 games for Wells in 2012-13, averaging 26.9 minutes of action while putting up 6.7 points per game. Leading the team in assists with 67, Walton also picked up 109 rebounds (4.0 per game, 109 total) while racking up 32 takeaways, placing third on the Express in that category.
Hood poured home 16 three-pointers for Wells in 2012-13, playing in 25 games while averaging 3.5 rebounds per game. He was also able to rack up 12 blocks, ranking second on the team in that category, while also notching 16 steals in an average of 17.7 minutes per game. Fabozzi was one of only five players to see action in 27 games for Wells last year, posting nearly an assist per game off of the bench while collecting 14 steals.
Sophomores Jordan Bishop (Arlington, Texas) and Nate Mitchell (Madison, N.Y.) return to the Wells roster following their freshman campaigns in 2012-13. Bishop was fourth on the squad with 6.9 points per game, leading all freshman players for the Express. In 27 games, Bishop averaged 3.4 rebounds per game while placing second on the team with 19 three-point field goals. Mitchell, who was injured during the season, made three appearances and was a perfect 1-for-1 from the floor in eight minutes of action.
The Wells roster also features nine newcomers as Wojtylko has brought in players of varying skill sets in hopes of tweaking his roster from a year ago. Juniors Shakeel Simmons (Brentwood, N.Y.), Tyrese Campbell (Staten Island, N.Y.) and Jordan Jean (Englewood, N.J.) are all above six feet tall, providing size to a roster with only four players above 6-1 in 2012-13.
Junior EZ Garcia (Cotulla, Texas) joins sophomores Randy McCormick (Massillon, Ohio) and Evan Kidd (Avila Beach, Calif.) will also be making their Wells College debuts in 2013-14. Garcia was a 2010 National Scoring Champion with 36.9 points per game in high school while McCormick, a high school teammate of Hood's, played basketball for the Tigers under Head Coach Matthew Creamer. Most recently, Kidd played for Hebron Academy in Hebron, Maine and was a three sport athlete.
Three freshmen players will also make their collegiate debuts for the Express this season. Guard Darius Smith (Lanham, Md.), an honor roll student at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Md., won the Hustle Man Award and was one of the team's leading scorers. James Feocco (Auburn, N.Y.) and Chris Courtney (Auburn, N.Y.) each attended the same high school, Auburn High, and were teammates under Head Coach Kevin Casler.
As is customary for a Wojtylko-coached team, Wells plays a competitive non-conference schedule. After facing-off against Keystone this evening, Wells plays Alfred University on Tuesday, Nov. 19 before hosting Hartwick College in the team's home opener on Thursday, Nov. 21. The Bombers of Ithaca College, who have never claimed a victory in the Frances Tarlton Farenthold Athletic Wing, come to Aurora on Saturday, Nov. 23.
Other non-league games include Waynesburg University (11/30), Manhattanville College (12/20) and Alfred State College (1/14).