For senior Carnegie Mellon basketball star Nate Maurer, his summer trip to Italy was a chance to unwind, sightsee, and experience a foreign culture firsthand. When he wasn?t making trips to the
Eiffel Tower or feasting on authentic Italian pizza, though, Maurer was on the basketball court. Teamed with nine Division I players from such basketball powerhouses as West Virginia and Penn, Maurer barnstormed through Italy, competing against some of Europe?s top national teams in a string of exhibition games.
The 6?7 forward was surrounded by top-notch talent, and was, for once, not required to be the go-to guy on offense. But while the experience may have added patience and variety to his already robust game, if the Tartans are to duplicate last year?s record-setting season, it?s imperative that Maurer remember how to again dominate the offensive side of the floor.
Only Maurer and teammate Clayton Barlow-Wilcox return to the starting lineup from the team that last year went 19?7 and set the school record for wins in one season. The pair, which averaged just under 36 points per game last season, will be required to carry even more of the scoring burden this time around for the team to be successful.
?If we want to win, Clayton and I are definitely going to have to carry an even bigger load this year,? said Maurer. ?We are the most experienced players on the team, and whether we win or lose will greatly depend on how well we both play.?
?I know Nate and I are ready and willing to take on more scoring,? added Barlow-Wilcox. ?I wouldn?t call it a burden at all. We are expected to score a lot more this year, and our teammates, our coaches, and ourselves know it.?
Barlow-Wilcox and Maurer will be aided by what head coach Tony Wingen calls one of the best recruiting classes in school history. Guards Corey O?Rourke and Casey Taylor bring explosive quickness to Wingen?s vaunted pressure defense, and 6?8 big man Rob Pearson adds muscle and scoring underneath. In addition, the team returns three-point gunner A.J. Straub, shot-blocking forward Greg Gonzalez, and seniors Barry Dunn and Marques Johnson.
?This year we?re going to have to count on a lot of players that have very little or no game experience, and that could make things difficult,? Maurer said. ?But they are all eager and ready to prove they can play significant minutes this year, and I have full confidence in all of them.?
Still, it is unrealistic to expect the first-years to immediately make up for the contributions of the eight departed seniors. It will take time to learn the offense and to get accustomed to the pace of the game at the college level, which because of the shot-clock is far quicker than in high school. Even Taylor himself was somewhat cautious in his expectations for the year.
?I?d say right now, to be honest, my role is to get the other guys, the older guys ready to play,? said Taylor. ?And when my number?s called, I?ll be ready to go.?
Even if the first-years are not ready to play for another year, though, the duo of Maurer and Barlow-Wilcox still gives the Tartans a shot in every game they play. The two all-conference
selections accounted for 43 percent of the Tartans? scoring a year ago, and even though the team was picked fourth this year in the UAA preseason coaches? poll, Maurer nonetheless believes they have the firepower to win even more games than the team did a year ago.
?Can we duplicate our success?? he said. ?I honestly expect to do better than last year. All I?ve ever wanted to do since my freshman year is play in the D-III NCAA tournament. We have a lot of talent, so if we can gel well on the court I think we could be very good.?