Drexel has increased its conference wins in each of Zach Spiker’s three seasons as head coach. And with the return of senior guards Zach Walton and Kurk Lee, both of whom missed most of last season with injuries, the Dragons are looking to keep the momentum going.
Last year, the Dragons finished 13-19 (7-11 in the Colonial Athletic Association), but they have key contributors to replace. The top three scorers are gone, but sophomore point guard Camren Wynter (11.3) and junior forward James Butler (10.3) are double-digit scorers.
The veteran-laden Dragons return four seniors and three juniors.
“I think this group understands that our strength is playing together, and that’s so important," Spiker says. “I think we have a really competitive group.”
Wynter and Butler should continue to develop as scorers in their second season as starters. Walton and Lee should join them as double-digit scorers.
Walton averaged 9.6 points last season before being sidelined with a wrist injury. At 6-foot-6, he is the Dragons’ chess piece -- he can play anywhere from shooting guard to power forward.
“He’s a mismatch a couple different ways," Spiker said last week. "He might be quicker than a [power forward] and might be too big for a guard.”
Lee broke out as a freshman, averaging 14.9 points and setting the Drexel rookie scoring record. Injuries hampered him as a junior, but he shot 15-for-30 on threes when healthy.
Top defensive players
Butler has been the anchor of the Dragons defense, and his teammates “look up to” his effort, Spiker said.
At 5-11, Matey Juric uses his size to bother defenders with relentless ball pressure. Last season, he tied a Drexel CAA tournament record with five steals against the College of Charleston. The sophomore earned the Dragons’ "D" award as the team’s top defender last season.
The Dragons’ engine will go as Wynter goes. He earned preseason second-team All-CAA honors after setting the Drexel rookie record with 174 assists. Wynter also scored in double figures 21 times, but he is known more as a floor general.
“It’s easy to play with a player like that," Walton said. "He really wants to get others involved, and he’s always looking to pass.”
With 11 players returning, the Dragons brought in two newcomers: freshmen Mate Okros and T.J. Bickerstaff.
Okros played with the under-18 Great Britain national team this summer and was the second-leading scorer, averaging 10.8 points.
“He’s a long guard with length, and [he] can shoot it,” Spiker said. “He’s a talented guard with a good feel for the game.”
The Dragons’ out-of-conference slate will feature tough road games at Temple; Rutgers; University of Maryland, Baltimore County; Stephen F. Austin; and South Florida. They’ll play only one more game at home than on the road, which makes their out-of-conference schedule one of the toughest in the CAA.
The conference is wide open. Five teams received at least one first-place vote in the preseason poll. Drexel was picked eighth, but Spiker said he has one of the conference’s hidden secrets in Walton, who “no one knows about.”
Drexel’s combination of size and quality play by the guards should lead to the fourth consecutive increase in conference wins.
Prediction: (15-16, 9-9 CAA)