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BOWLING GREEN - It was the fall of 1999, and Bowling Green State University basketball coach Dan Dakich faced a tough choice.
Dakich had one scholarship available, but two players to whom he wanted to offer it.
One of those players was a versatile 6-8 post player, a local athlete with a good jump shot who averaged nearly 25 points and 10 rebounds a game. The other was a 6-6 post player from western Pennsylvania with a good jump who averaged 22 points and 10 rebounds per contest.
"I wished I had another scholarship at the time," Dakich said. "But it worked out the best way it could have."
It worked out well because the two players - Josh Almanson and John Reimold - both eventually became Falcons. This season the two seniors have joined forces to become the top one-two scoring punch in the Mid-American Conference.
Reimold leads the MAC in scoring, averaging 18.0 points per game. Almanson is right on his heels with his average of 17.7 points per contest. But this pair has contributed more than just points; by force of will they have combined to make Bowling Green, picked to finish fifth in the MAC's West Division in the preseason, a contender for the West Division title instead.
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"I've never said that about them, but they've been All-Americans all year," Dakich said a week ago. "If college basketball was even across the board in terms of choosing teams based on reality, not on television and perception, those two would be All-Americans. They've had All-American years."
It's funny, though, that while their scoring averages are strikingly similar, the paths Almanson and Reimold have taken to reach this point are strikingly dissimilar.
As a native of Bowling Green, Josh Almanson always was aware of the BGSU program - and the program was aware of him, too.
"Coach Dakich started recruiting me in my sophomore year, and I felt I knew more about this program than any other program that was recruiting me," Almanson said. "I didn't make any quick decisions about where I was going to school, but I always felt good about the program here at Bowling Green." Almanson was named second team All-Ohio as a senior, averaging 25.7 and 12.0 rebounds per game for the Bobcats.
Almanson's Falcon career started well as he earned a spot on the MAC's all-freshman team his first season. He filled a reserve role and averaged 7.0 points and 3.4 rebounds per game.
Those numbers went down slightly his sophomore year, when Almanson averaged 4.7 points and 2.6 boards coming off the bench for a 24-9 BG team that earned an NIT berth.
But his real frustrations began in his junior season, when a stress fracture of his left ankle limited him to six games.
"Any time you have to sit out it sets you back," Almanson said. "You have to make up ground just to be competitive again, and it's hard to make a lot of headway quickly when you're battling injuries."
After red-shirting, Almanson came back last season to play in 31 games, averaging 8.0 points and 4.8 rebounds per game.
"It was hard at times last year; there were times I played with pain," Almanson said. "But having an extra year to get stronger, and being able to play on it all summer, has made a huge difference."
Since a chance to play at Bowling Green wasn't in the cards, Reimold signed with Loyola College in Maryland.
He had an immediate impact, ranking fifth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference at 15.6 points per game and earning the league's rookie of the year award. But he wasn't happy at Loyola, where the team finished 6-23 in front of small crowds, and transferred to Bowling Green the following year.
Unlike Almanson, Reimold's impact on the Falcon program was immediate and extensive. As a sophomore he averaged 15.0 and 5.0 rebounds per game, and last year he mirrored those numbers with 15.1 points and 4.8 rebounds per game in a season that was marred by a deep thigh bruise.
The injury frustrated Reimold, of course, but a brusied team was a bigger concern.
"There were a lot of things that didn't go right last year, and when they didn't go right everything fell apart," he said. "This year, when things aren't going right, we know we're going to listen to the coaches and get the ship righted. Problems get fixed when everybody's working together, and things don't linger."
And while Reimold is adept at putting up numbers - he has scored in double figures in all but one of the Falcons' 25 games this season, and has reached double digits in scoring in nearly 84 percent of his games at BG - he doesn't wish to be defined by numbers.
"Numbers don't mean anything if you don't win," Reimold said. "Somebody's got to score on a bad team. But if you can contribute to a good team, that's what everybody wants to do."
It would be easy to label Almanson and Reimold as an inside-outside combination. It also would be wrong.
The 6-8 Almanson is capable of making outside jump shots, having connected on 22 3-pointers this season to rank third on the team.
"Versatility in my game helps me out," Almanson said. "If a team tries to take one thing away, I feel confident in doing something else to get something going on the offensive end."
Almanson ranks among the MAC leaders in five different categories, topping the league in field-goal percentage (61.1 percent). But the biggest jump for Almanson is the almost 10-point jump in his scoring average over his career mark.
"In Josh's defense, this is the first year he has been able to practice on a daily basis since his sophomore year - three years ago," Dakich said. "Last year he would maybe practice two days in a row, then not. Some days his ankle would bother him so he'd only practice 10 minutes."
Having a full year to work on his game has propelled Almanson among the MAC's elite players.
"I feel I always was capable of this," Almanson said. "The biggest thing was going to work down in the post. Every individual workout was about getting post position and getting easy baskets in the post. That has helped me a lot this year."
His success also has helped open things up for Reimold, who stands second in the MAC in shooting at 52.9 percent. Reimold also ranks among the MAC's best in six other categories, with his specialty being 3-point shooting.
But Reimold isn't exclusively an outside marksman; he gets plenty of points by driving into the lane and making tough shots from close range.
"I don't like to be called a 3-point shooter," he said. "I know I shoot a lot of 3s, but I take a lot of pride in other things that I do to help our team win, things like taking charges, diving on loose balls. I just want to do whatever it takes to put our team over the edge."
Both have displayed that same selflessness. And both Almanson and Reimold said they aren't worried about getting individual credit for the team's success this season.
"It has been a fun year to this point, but what we've done won't mean anything unless we close it out," Reimold said. "We can be proud of what we've done so far, but we know it doesn't mean anything if we don't finish what we've started."
When asked whether Almanson or Reimold is the MAC's most valuable player, Dakich just smiled. He's had some experience with tough choices.
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