University of Toledo basketball coach Tod Kowalczyk will face tough decisions in the coming months over playing time on a team being endorsed as the favorite to win the Mid-American Conference title.
Those are choices the coach seldom needed to make the last three seasons as he turned to a bench and saw a band of misfits, some not on scholarship, others pressed to play unnatural positions.
For now, a little more than a month to go before the official start of practice, Kowalczyk is keeping an open mind. He says he’s prepared to give minutes to all 11 available players, arriving at that conclusion at some point during the nine practices leading up to the recent Greece trip and the three anticlimactic games there in which his team breezed past inferior opponents.
All but one player scored in double figures in at least one contest, and the odd man out, guard Josh Lemons, came within a point in the first game of joining the others. Matt Smith, the starting power forward the last two years, did not participate because of a minor knee injury. Neither did Angel Aparicio, who could miss the season with an ACL tear.
"Eleven guys that can play," Kowalczyk said. "Time will tell if all 11 do play, but I’d have no problem throwing any of those guys into a legitimate game into the heat of the moment."
Kowalczyk said he prefers as the season progresses to tighten the rotation to 10 — a number bigger than any of his first 11 seasons as a head coach. A rotation involving two players at each position will resemble the one employed a year ago by MAC champion Akron. The Zips played 11 players between 30 and 11 minutes.
The Rockets, who returned home Friday from an 11-day trip highlighted by Greek historical sites, Gyros, and beach time, never sweated in winning three games by an average of 49 points. Against competition weaker than Kowalczyk had wanted, Toledo prevailed by margins of 74, 41, and 33 and did not play its final scheduled game against a French team that went home.
J.D. Weatherspoon, whom Kowalczyk said will battle Smith at power forward, finished in double figures in every game, as did scoring guards Justin Drummond — who like Weatherspoon is eligible after sitting out last year as a transfer — and freshman Jonathan Williams. Two other freshmen continue to earn glowing reviews, with Kowalczyk calling Napoleon graduate Jordan Lauf "as prepared as any recruit I’ve had a chance to bring in," and saying Vanlue’s Zach Garber "has a tremendous future."
Lauf had 16 points and Garber 13 in UT’s first game, a 74-point rout over Green Poseidon.
"I thought we played hard, I thought we played together, and I was really happy how we shared the basketball," Kowalczyk said, speaking about the trip as a whole. "The competition wasn’t as good as I was hoping for, but overall I think the basketball experience was a positive."
While the team was overseas, College Sports Madness picked the Rockets to win the MAC, ranking them No. 89 in the nation over league members Western Michigan (100), Kent State (115), and Akron (128).
Kowalczyk gave his team this week off with classes starting. Individual drills will commence next week, and official practices will begin in late September, an earlier start by two weeks than past years because of a new NCAA rule.