Oct. 31—MITCHELL — One game into the 2023-24 season, and it's already easy to see why optimism swirled around the most recent recruiting class brought in by the Dakota Wesleyan men's basketball program.
Of the nine players to see the court for the Tigers in Sunday's season opener at the Corn Palace, four were true freshmen, including starting point guard Randy Rosenquist Jr. Off the bench, DWU brought in the first-year trio of guards Oliver Vincent and Ethan Determan and forward Kaden Year.
Rosenquist, a Dakota Valley product, put together an impressive statistical debut, finishing with 13 points (11 in the first half) and leading the Tigers with eight rebounds and six assists to go with two steals and one block.
"He's one of those guys where you're just going to cut him loose," Wilber said of Rosenquist. "He's a hooper. We recruited him and these other (freshman) guards to come in here, play right away and be productive right away."
Vincent, who played his prep basketball at Sioux Valley, added two points, four assists, two rebounds and one steal in 13 minutes. Determan, of Harrisburg, contributed five points and three rebounds in 16 minutes and Year, from Sioux Falls Jefferson, connected on a 3-pointer on his lone shot attempt in eight minutes of action. The trio accounted for all 10 of DWU's points off the bench.
With the youth alongside the veteran leadership of juniors Samuel Aslesen, Jakob Dobney, Kallan Herman and Blaze Lubbers and senior Nick Wittler, DWU head coach Matt Wilber expressed that the current collection of Tigers is in a unique place so early on in the season.
"Those guys are comfortable out there, they're talented and they like to play together," Wilber said. "That's one thing that's really refreshing to be around with this group. The young guys have really meshed with the older guys, and it has the potential to be a really connected group."
All five starters for the Tigers reached double figures in scoring on Sunday, led by Dobney's 21 points and Herman's 15, both with three 3-pointers to their credit. Rosenquist (13), Aslesen (12) and Lubbers (11) rounded out the effort.
Dobney, who spent a lot of time as a primary ball-handler for the Tigers last season, was afforded the opportunity to play in a more comfortable scoring role off the ball with the addition of Rosenquist to the lineup. Wilber credited that shift with Dobney finding a rhythm and scoring 19 of his points after halftime in Game 1.
While the bench produced 10 points total, the Tigers continued to look comfortable even when multiple starters left the floor. The bench roles should see an increase in playing time, too, as Wilber said he was riding the veteran leadership and hot hands against DSU. Establishing and maintaining a balance within the production and in the rotation will likely go hand-in-hand with the Tigers' success this season, as Wilber noted inconsistencies in that area in recent years.
"We've got contributors all over the place when you look at five starters in double figures (against DSU)," Wilber said. "... And I don't think our minutes will be as imbalance moving forward. Guys off the bench will get more minutes as the year goes on, and the fact that we got contributions off our bench, which has been an issue for us the past couple of years, is really encouraging."
To start the season, the Tigers were without senior forward Diang Gatluak, and according to Wilber, the injury that sidelined Gatluak looks serious and is receiving further evaluation.
"He's got an issue with his foot, and it's potentially bad. We'll find out more this week," Wilber said. "It's really disappointing. He's a guy that was set to have a big year and had a great offseason."
Without the athletic, 6-foot-6 big man who started 14 games for DWU last season, the Tigers went with a four-guard starting lineup against DSU. Though Wilber said the one-forward lineup was partially due to facing the Trojans' zone defense, going to a smaller starting five might become a regular reality.
In Game 1, DWU was out-rebounded 45-39 despite pulling away for the win. Aslesen, at 6-foot-7, was the Tigers' tallest starter, with Lubbers the next closest at 6-3. Herman is listed at 6-2, while Dobney and Rosenquist are both 6-foot flat. As such, Wilber noted the importance of the length of Year, at 6-6, and Determan, at 6-3, off the bench.
Though they didn't play in the season-opener, the Tigers also have 6-foot-9 center Emmanuel Akot and forwards Hayden Ruesink, at 6-5, and Steele Morgan and Ethan Cheeseman, both 6-4, available on the varsity roster.
"It's an issue," Wilber said of the Tigers' size deficit. "But we can play Determan, Year, Aslesen and Lubbers together, and you'll see that lineup moving forward at times."