With four returning starters from a year ago, the return of an All-Conference caliber player, and an impressive class of newcomers, head coach Jack Murphy and the Northern Arizona men's basketball team are prepped and ready to embark on a competitive 2016-17 season.
Last year's season is behind the Lumberjacks, as their eyes are set on this year and what the roster they have can produce. A trio of seniors will guide NAU through road games at Santa Clara, Washington, and UNLV and a 12-game home slate.
Forward Ako Kaluna (Santa Clarita, Calif.), one of three seniors on the roster, started 29 of 30 games last season and is NAU's returning top player after averaging 12.4 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. He led the team with four double-doubles and was second in double digit scoring games with 20. Kaluna posted season highs of 28 points, 18 rebounds, four assists, four steals, and four blocked shots.
The Lumberjacks are ready to add depth to their post unit with the return of senior Jordyn Martin (Las Vegas, Nev.) who was sidelined due to injury three games into the 2015-16 season. The year prior, Martin played a major role in NAU's CIT run averaging a double-double of 12.8 points and 11.8 rebounds per game. During that stint, Martin set NAU postseason game records for points (27 tied for first), rebounds (17) and field goals made (12).
The talent of the big men continues to flow with the return of sophomores Corey Brown and Isaiah Thomas. With a year under their belt at the college level, the duo has had a full season of conditioning to keep the battle at the forward positions competitive.
Brown - who started the most games out of the duo - 14 of 30 - had a solid freshman campaign. The Hollywood, Fla. native shot 60.8 percent from the floor and averaged 3.6 points and 2.5 rebounds per game during his time on the court.
Add Oakland, California's Isaiah Thomas to the fusion and that's a hefty mixture of talent in the frontcourt that can't be denied. Thomas started six of 30 games a year ago scoring 59 points and grabbing 45 rebounds. Now after a year of competition and conditioning at the collegiate level, he's ready to hit the court.
Incoming freshmen Ray Robinson (Deerfield Beach, Fla.) and Brooks DeBisschop (West Linn, Ore.) extend NAU's depth at the four and five positions.
Robinson played AAU ball with Brown and Felix Rivera-Vega, giving the Lumberjacks added chemistry on the court. He spent one season at Sound Doctrine Academy after playing three seasons at Deerfield Beach High School, where he helped his team to a district champions in 2014 when he wasn't competing on the volleyball court.
DeBisschop was a First Team All-State and All-Three Rivers League honoree at West Linn High School, helping the Lions to four Oregon State 4A championships. In his second season with the program is Steven Stanley. The Phoenix, Ariz. native appeared in six games for NAU last season and brings high intensity and competitiveness to the program.
Rivera-Vega showed his versatility on the court with his ability to score under the basket, as well as from long range, making it a top reason why he has evolved into more of a wing player. He scored 122 points on the season - 42 from three-point range and another 20 from the charity stripe. His long wing span is an asset for the Lumberjacks and a problem for opponents.
Aziz Seck (Dakar, Senegal) and Chris Bowling (Gilbert, Ariz.) are two incoming talented wings. Seck comes to NAU from a stint at the Army & Navy Academy, while Bowling was an All-State player out of Gilbert High School. Both players give have great size. Seck's unique athleticism will allow for the Lumberjacks to do things on both offense and defense that they haven't been able to do in the past. Bowling's high basketball IQ aids in his ability to shoot the ball quite nicely from long range.
The veteran of the backcourt is senior Jaleni Neely. The Chicago, Ill. point guard was injured midway through last season, but was granted a medical redshirt for another try at his senior season. Specializing in three-pointers and free throws, Neely averaged 10.6 points and shot 35.7 percent from behind the arc before being sidelined.
Redshirt sophomore Torry Johnson (Chicago, Ill.) suffered an injury this summer, slowing down the progress he made since arriving at NAU. Johnson had redshirted his initial year at with the Lumberjacks and hit the court last season conditioned and ready to compete. Johnson averaged 9.3 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game, resulting in 14 double digit scoring games in his debut year.
Not to worry, sophomore Mike Green (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) can dish the ball and drive to the basket having scored 20 or more points three times, including a career-best 23 points. Green has proven that he is capable of pulling up for a shot and knocking it down.
JoJo Anderson (Houston, Texas) spent last season at 22ft Academy, but prior to that he was a McDonald's All-American Game nominee out of Jack Yates High School. The All-State and All-District honoree also competed in track & field, specializing in the 100 meters. Good ball handling skills, plus speed is what Anderson brings to the Lumberjack lineup.
Guard Marcus DeBerry started more games than any other freshmen last season, getting the go-ahead in 23 of 30 games he appeared in. The Union City, Tenn. native averaged 7.6 points and 2.8 rebounds per game. He was 36 percent from the field and was a solid threat at the charity stripe making 83.3 percent of his free throw attempts.
Turning his game up a notch last season was junior guard Kye de Laveaga (Scottsdale, Ariz.). The sharp shooter earned five starts a year ago, and will be back at it again this year. Omar Ndiaye (Sante Fe, N.M.) also returns for his sophomore season after joining the Lumberjacks last season.
Freshman Travis Rice arrives at NAU after a competing at the widely known Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas, Nev. Rice earned Sunset All-League honors, while helping the nationally ranked Gaels to three state championships.
The coaching staff will have one slight change from last season with the addition of assistant coach Ben Tucker. He arrived at NAU in the spring, after prior stops at the University of Arizona, College of Idaho, and Walsh University. Assistant coach Matt Dunn returns for his fifth season with the Lumberjacks, while Wes Pifer enters his fourth season.