Team preview: Army

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2012-13 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.


If the interview had been done by Skype, might we have seen Zach Spiker blush a little as he tried to downplay a compliment that no Army coach has heard in a long, long time.

"Loaded? Us? Nah, we're not loaded," Spiker said. "We do have a lot coming back. But so do Lehigh and Bucknell. They are loaded. So are some of the other teams in the league that have a lot back.

"We're not loaded."

This is where perspective comes into play.

Spiker expects to get minutes from a lot of freshmen. So his reticence when it comes to singing his team's praises is sort of understood.

Army Black Knights

Even though they nearly all played together for a post grad year at West Point Prep (USMAPS), they are still freshmen. Yeah, they spent last winter playing prep schools and small college jayvee teams, but even at the Patriot League level, Division I is a big step up.

So maybe Spiker is right. Maybe Army is not loaded, at least not by the standards they might be using in Lewisburg or Bethlehem. But that anybody is even considering using the word "loaded" to describe a West Point side is a sign of the progress the program seems to be making in Spiker's fourth season.

Four starters, including leading scorer Ella Ellis, are back. Another half dozen guys have started a combined total of 28 games. Army returns 10 of its top 11 scorers and 10 of its top 11 rebounders.

Among the returnees: a trio of seniors any team in the league would be happy to have, especially if Jason Pancoe, a junior who is one of the top 3-point shooters in the league and who proved he could play point guard last season can stay healthy.

Pancoe (4.3 ppg, 2.1 rpg, .411 3PT), a "steady, cerebral" 6-2 guard, was a solid hand at the point as a sophomore. But he was limited to 15 games and five starts.

Jason Springer (4.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg) is a 6-6 two-year returning starter who was second on the team, behind Ellis, in rebounding as a junior.

And the 6-7 Ellis (17.5 ppg, 4.9 rpg) is a first-team All-Patriot pick who ranked third in the league in scoring and 10th in rebounding.

Ellis and Springer each spent a season at Army's prep school. Pancoe also did a post grad year at Salisbury Prep. They are almost the equivalent of a fifth-year senior.

Not loaded? Okay, but not bad either.

There is more back than just the trio of seniors, too.

Junior 6-3 sniper Josh Herbeck (10.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg) is a 40.1 percent 3-point shooter whose 2.5 treys per game ranked second in the league.

Sophomore Maxwell Lenox, who led Army with 96 assists as a 6-0 freshman returns at the point. Lenox, who prepped a year at Fork Union, "proved he can contribute in our league," Spiker said.

Still, Spiker's optimism is, at best, guarded.

"What I will say," he says, "is we have more productivity returning than in quite a while."

Spiker's reluctance to get too excited most likely stems from the fact he will probably need to count on a number of freshmen to step up to fill holes in the rotation.

Asked to project who might fill those wholes, the best Spiker could do was to whittle it down to small groups at each position. Four freshmen, all of whom played together last season at USMAPS, will compete for time in the backcourt.

Dylan Cox is a 6-3 former high school football player who held the school record for touchdowns (and the high jump record in track) at Cedar Park High School in Texas, where he was voted top defensive basketball player in his district as a junior.

Cox was captain and MVP last season for a 23-8 USMAPS team.

Among those Cox will be battling for minutes are brothers Chris Gramling and Matt Gramling, both of who played for the same Texas D1 Ambassadors AAU program Cox did.

Matt Gramling, a 6-2 freshman combo guard, is a former high school quarterback. Older brother Chris (0.5 ppg, 0.3 rpg) is a 5-11 sophomore. Both brothers spent a year at USMAPS.

Mo Williams (5.0 ppg, 1.9 rpg), a 6-1 sophomore who played in 30 games last season, starting seven, is another USMAPS alum who will be in the mix, along with 6-2 freshman Kyle Wilson and 6-1 freshman Kyle Toth, another pair of guys who were on the USMAPS team last season.

The situation in the frontcourt is similar, with Spiker expecting newcomers to be in the mix for minutes behind Ellis and Springer.

Sophomore Whit Thornton (0.9 ppg, 1.9 rpg) should have an edge at the power forward spot. The 6-7 Thornton played in 28 games as a freshman, averaging more than 11 minutes per game.

Also competing for time at the four will be freshmen Larry Toomey and Tanner Plomb.

Toomey, 6-5, who spent last season at USMAPS, averaged more than 17 points and nearly eight rebounds as a high school senior in Missouri.

Plomb is a 6-7 true freshman who averaged 19.4 points for a 23-3 East Troy, Wis., team last season.

Freshmen Kevin Ferguson and Kyle Weldon will battle it out for minutes at center. The 6-10 Ferguson was a dominant player his senior year at Governor Livingston High School in New Jersey, averaging 17 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks, before spending last year at USMAPS.

Weldon is a 6-9 true freshman who posted a double-double almost nightly as a senior at Rossview (Tenn.) HS. Weldon averaged 15.8 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.5 blocked shots.






Spiker is probably right. Despite a first five that, on paper anyhow, should be able to hang with most starting groups in the league, depth, or the lack thereof, is Army's Achilles' heel.

There just is not a solid enough bunch of juniors and sophomores behind the three seniors to expect to mount any dark horse run for the Patriot League title.

Army should be better, though. It has a playmaker in Ellis, a shotmaker in Herbeck. Play anything close to good defense and the Black Knights ought to be able to run with anybody.

Holy Cross learned last season that West Point is no longer a sure win destination. Teams that escape Christl Arena with a W this year will have earned it.

"Any time you get to this point, there should be more consistency. We want to take another step forward this year," Spiker said.

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2012-13 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.