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Optimistic men's basketball team opens season on Friday

Alex Gallant '11 is one big part part of a big, deep and talented Bates frontcourt rotation.
Brian Ellis '11 has scored 985 points through his first three seasons at Bates.

LEWISTON, Maine -- A season full of hope officially begins Friday for the Bates College men's basketball team. The Bobcats play at the University of Rochester Tipoff Classic, facing Babson on Friday at 1 p.m. and St. Lawrence on Saturday at 1 p.m. Both games can be followed via Live Stats and Video Webcast.

The Bobcats have reason to believe they can move up the ladder in the NESCAC, from what wasn't a shabby position in the 2009-10 season, anyway. Last year, head coach Jon Furbush's second at the helm, saw Bates earn the fourth seed in the NESCAC Championship, rout Bowdoin at home in the conference quarterfinals and bow out in the semifinals against Williams, to finish 14-12 overall and with a 5-4 conference record.

Senior tri-captains Brian Ellis (Braintree, Mass.), Alex Gallant (Bangor, Maine) and Nick Schmiemann (Weymouth, Mass.) exemplify the quality, depth and size evident on the Bobcats' roster. The 6-foot-5 Ellis was a First Team All-NESCAC forward in 2010, leading Bates in scoring (15.0 ppg) and rebounding (6.9 rpg), both career-high averages. Ellis enters Friday's game with 985 career points, poised to become the 30th member of Bates' 1,000-point club. Six-foot-four forward Gallant averaged 12.7 points per game over Bates' final six contests, and won NESCAC Player of the Week honors after torching Amherst and Tufts. The 6-7 forward Schmiemann ranked second on the team in scoring (10.4 ppg) and hit 38 of 96 three-pointers (.396).

Mark Brust '13 showed the potential to light up the scoreboard in helping Bates win seven of its last nine games in 2009-10.

Bates' loaded frontcourt also includes a pair of junior standouts from the football team who have both made outstanding contributions to the team as sophomores. Six-foot-7 John Squires (Swampscott, Mass.), who had an outstanding season at wide receiver for the Bobcats, was a stat sheet filler of a forward last year, averaging 3.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and even 1.8 assists in 17.5 minutes of action per game last season. Six-foot-6 center Ryan Weston (Bangor, Maine), who earned All-NESCAC honors as an offensive tackle, was the key to Bates' playoff win over Bowdoin, supplying excellent interior defense and collecting nine points and 15 rebounds in 22 minutes.

Sophomore guard Mark Brust's (Duxbury, Mass.) accelerated emergence last season as a force -- Brust averaged 9.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.1 turnovers per game while playing a team-high 30.8 minutes per game after he took over the Bobcats' starting point guard job in mid-January, and earned a place on the All-Maine Rookie Team -- was a primary reason the Bobcats were able to finish the season 7-2 in their last nine games. Because Brust kept raising the bar as his rookie season went along, just how good he can be as a sophomore becomes one of the team's X factors, and one of the most exciting aspects of the coming season.

Bates' backcourt rotation will also include junior Kyle Philbrook (Auburn, Maine), a quick and pesky defender with solid all-around skills, and junior Thomas Deegan (Weymouth, Mass.), who plans to graduate after three years in May 2011. Deegan proved he can be a factor when he scored 17 points with five rebounds in last season's opener against Thomas.

Other talented returners to the team look to crack the rotation this season after seeing limited time last year: swingmen Reid Christian (Pownal, Maine) and Kevin Lentini (North Reading, Mass.) and guard Nick Friedman (Cambridge, Mass.).

Four freshmen join the team for is hoped to be a special season: 6-3 Justin Conway (West Roxbury, Mass.), 6-3 Sean Cunningham (Amherst, Mass.), 5-9 Luke Matarazzo (Shelton, Conn.) and 5-10 Derek Murphy (Lowell, Mass.).

"I think for all of us it's a special year," Furbush told the Lewiston Sun Journal this week. "We got to the (NESCAC) Final Four last year. The senior leadership can really help bring Bates to the next level. We've been middle of the pack now for the better part of the decade. I think this is the year we can get to that elite status and stay there."