A new era has dawned for the Mid-America Christian University men’s basketball program when they open up the 2015-16 season tonight at home against Haskell Indian Nations University.
Leading the way forward is new head coach Josh Gamblin, who comes to MACU following a stint as a graduate assistant coach at the University of Oklahoma and assistant coach at Southwestern Christian University. Gamblin replaces former head coach Willie Holley, who stayed at the helm 42 years and notched an astounding 813 career wins, including leading the squad to their first-ever Sooner Athletic Conference regular season championship last season and a quarterfinal appearance in their initial appearance in the NAIA National Championship Tournament.
"I am beyond excited for the opportunity to become the next head men's basketball coach at MACU," Gamblin said. "It is an honor to follow in the footsteps of not only a great coach, but a great man in Willie Holley. To be able to use the game of basketball as a tool to lead young men to Christ is an opportunity of a lifetime.”
Changes to the Evangels this season aren’t limited to the bench, as the team was forced to say goodbye to NAIA All-American and SAC Player of the Semar Farris, along with All-SAC performers Reggie Davis, Jarius Wilson and Brock Hunter.
“Although we lost several very good players our expectations have not changed, Gamblin said.
“We expect to compete at the top of the SAC and if we do that, we know we have a chance to get back into the NAIA National Championship Tournament. Coach Holley left this program with a ton of upward momentum and our goal is to continue to build.”
While it’s safe to say the Evangels will look very different from last year’s squad that came within 20 minutes of a spot in the NAIA semifinals, the goals remain eerily similar as MACU looks to continue its ascendance into a consistently elite program in the SAC and NAIA.
Gamblin’s job should be made easier with the return of assistant coach and recruiting guru Anthony Nero for his eighth season. Brandon Rollins also joins the staff in his first season as an assistant coach at MACU. Rollins served as an assistant coach at SCU last year.
Newcomers will be the theme at the guard position this season for the Evangels, with five newcomers expected to see significant playing time. Junior Malcolm Mann is expected to take over starting point guard duties in place of Farris. Mann is a transfer with good length that averaged a stat line of 8.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists at Hesston College last year.
“Malcolm is a long, rangy point guard,” Gamblin said. “He’s our best athlete who only cares about winning and led Hesston College to their best seasons in the last two years.”
Senior guard Nick Tate and junior guard Trey Slate will factor heavily into the shooting guard equation for the Evangels this year. Tate redshirted at Southwestern Oklahoma State University last year and last played at Oklahoma Christian University, where he scored 19.7 points per game along with 7.1 rebounds. Tate is a consistent threat from the perimeter and contributed to winning at OC, helping the Eagles to a SAC tournament championship in 2012 and then a National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) national runner-up finish in 2013.
“Nick is a proven commodity at our level who is a better leader than he is a player and he is a heck of a player,” Gamblin said.
Gamblin is very familiar with Slate after helping coach him last season at the University of Oklahoma. Slate appeared in eight games last season for the Sooners.
“Simply put Trey is the hardest worker I have ever been around and one of the best shooters as well.”
Devante Moore and Terrell Savala are two more junior transfers that could factor in the mix this season for the Evangels. Moore last played at the University of Central Oklahoma and Savala competed at Northern Oklahoma-Enid College.
The lone returning guard this season will be junior guard Jerrick Warren. Warren will again have a valuable role for the Evangels after playing in all 36 games as the primary backup point guard for Farris. Warren helped facilitate the Evangels’ offensive attack by dishing out 58 assists last season, which was tied for third on the team.
Senior forwards Chris Runnels and Jerrick Massenburge return this season after contributing heavily to the Evangels’ historic run last year. Runnels proved to be a force defensively, blocking a team-high 49 shots that represented a single-season high for the Evangels as an NAIA school. Runnels also led the team with 5.4 rebounds per game and scored 8.6 points. With so many shooters on the court, Runnels should have plenty of room to operate down low this year.
“Chris will be counted on heavy to make an impact on both ends of the floor and we really love Mass” ability to score the basketball and we will ask him to do that in a variety of ways,” Gamblin said.
Massenburge is one of those shooters that can space the floor, as he was a constant threat from the perimeter last year for the Evangels. Massenburge scored in double-figures at 10 points per game and ranked second on the team in threes (55) and third in three-point percentage (.359).
The Evangels will welcome in four new forwards to the program this season in senior Bryon Miller and juniors Devonse Reed, Exzavia Seaton and Will Brewer.
MACU fans will remember Miller at former SAC member Oklahoma Baptist University last season averaging 15.3 points per game along with 7.3 rebounds.
“Bryon is another proven player at this level,” Gamblin noted. He is a great shooter who also rebounds the ball at a very high level.”
Reed is a prolific scorer that averaged 25 points per game at Wilmer-Hutchins High School and most recently 10 points a game for McLennan Community College.
“Devonse is extremely talented,” Gamblin said. He’s a former high school player of the year in Texas who can score the ball from anywhere on the court.”
Seaton comes to MACU from Mountain View College, where he contributed a solid 14 points and eight rebounds per game.
Brewer played at Seminole State College and was a District Player of the Year and All-Region performer at Southeast High School in OKC.
Senior Jason Nwisienyi and junior Yuri Hager will play key roles in the paint this season for the Evangels. Nwisienyi flashed athleticism defending inside and was second on the squad with 21 blocks last season.
Hager is in his third season with the Evangels and has shown a nice touch underneath, shooting 49.2 percent (32-of-65) from the field last year.
The Evangels have been picked to finish tied for second in the SAC in the league’s preseason coaches’ poll with Wayland Baptist University and behind favorite Southwestern Assemblies of God University. It’s the highest the Evangels have ever been selected in the poll and represents the program’s continued climb into a consistently elite program in the conference and the NAIA.
The 2015-16 season opener for the Evangels will take place on Oct. 27 at home against Haskell Indian Nations University. MACU also has a high profile exhibition contest at Gamblin’s old stomping grounds the University of Oklahoma on Nov. 12 at the Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla. The Evangels then open up action in the SAC on Dec. 5 at Texas Wesleyan University in Ft. Worth, Texas, while the conference home opener is set for Jan. 7 against John Brown University.