Northern Arizona coach Mike Adras has a message for University of Arizona fans.
"They won't have to sit around for an hour and wait for the Lumberjacks this year," said Adras of his team's Dec. 3 matchup with the Wildcats. "We'll be there on time. I promise."
Last December, Adras' squad had trouble making it to Tucson in time for tipoff. Adras had to wait for his players to finish final exams, then the team was delayed leaving Flagstaff because of a snowstorm.
Eventually, the Lumberjacks made it to Tucson, but the game was delayed for an hour while NAU made its way south.
"I should write a book about that one," Adras said, whose team led the Wildcats with less than three minutes to play before eventually losing 63-58. "It was an unbelievable journey to go through. To just finally get there and play as well as we did. It was truly remarkable."
But, that was then. That's when the Lumberjacks:
• Had a 20-point-per-game scorer and one of the Big Sky Conference's best players in Cameron Jones.
• Relied on a pair of seniors, Eric Platt and Shane Johannsen, to produce more than 19 points per game and more than nine boards a game.
• Didn't have eight newcomers on the roster.
Adras' squad will hardly resemble the 2010 team when it comes to McKale Center next month. On top of losing Jones, Platt and Johannsen to graduation, the Lumberjacks will be without their leading returning scorer, junior Gabe Rogers, for at least the first two months of the season.
Rogers, who averaged 13.1 points per game last year and connected on 47 percent of his three-point shots (82 for 174), had surgery in early October to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder.
Even with a different-looking roster and less talent than last year's team, Adras still believes NAU, picked to finish fourth in the Big Sky, can win.
In order to prove Adras right, plenty will have to go the Lumberjacks' way. Here are three things Adras feels NAU must do to compete in the Big Sky.
1. Find one or two consistent scorers.
Without Rogers, the Lumberjacks return just 9.9 points per game from last year's team. NAU returns its starting point guard, Stallon Saldivar, but the Salt Lake City native is more of a pass-first guard (173 assists last season) than a scorer.
Adras thinks freshman guard James Douglas, an Orange (Calif.) Lutheran high school teammate of UA recruit Gabe York, will be able to put the ball in the basket at a high clip.
The coach also pointed to junior college transfer post players Max Jacobsen and Ephraim Ekanem as other players that should contribute to the scoring.
2. Stop the opposing team's post players.
The Lumberjacks were expecting to have former Ironwood Ridge standout Austin Smith starting in the post. Instead, the junior left the team in the summer and won't compete for NAU this season.
Adras said he didn't want to comment on Smith's departure, but it clearly left the team with a void.
Jacobsen and Ekanem will team with returning post Durrell Norman.
Norman averaged less than four rebounds a game last season, meaning Jacobsen and Ekanem will have to keep other teams off the glass.
3. Have good on-court leadership.
Rogers, a fourth-year junior, was expected to be the leader of this group after it was Jones' team last year.
"It's hard to sit on the sideline and be a leader," Adras said. "He was the guy who broke every huddle and led our team in every drill. We're going to need other guys to step up for him while he's out."
Saldivar, a junior, and Norman, a senior, are the likely candidates to fill the leadership void.
"I think we both have some leadership qualities," Saldivar said. "Everyone who was on the team last year will have to lead in their own way."
NAU MEN'S SCHEDULE
11 Louisiana-Lafayette* 9:30 p.m.
12 at San Francisco* 8 p.m.
13 North Dakota State* 2 p.m.
18 Arizona Christian 6:35 p.m.
22 Northern New Mexico 6:35 p.m.
26 at Loyola Marymount 8:30 p.m.
30 vs. Brigham Young** TBA
3 at Arizona 4:30 p.m.
7 Pepperdine 6:35 p.m.
10 Cal State Bakersfield 6:35 p.m.
17 at Arizona State 4 p.m.
20 at Sam Houston St. 6 p.m.
29 Sacramento State 6:35 p.m.
31 at Northern Colorado 7:35 p.m.
5 at Portland State 8:05 p.m.
7 at Eastern Washington 7:05 p.m.
12 Montana 6:35 p.m.
14 Montana State 6:35 p.m.
19 at Weber State 7:05 p.m.
21 at Idaho State 7:05 p.m.
28 at Sacramento State 8:05 p.m.
30 Northern Colorado 6:30 p.m.
2 Eastern Washington 6:35 p.m.
4 Portland State 6:35 p.m.
9 Weber State 6:35 p.m.
11 Idaho State 6:35 p.m.
18 ESPN Bracket Busters 6:35 p.m.
23 at Montana 7 p.m.
27 at Montana State TBA
* 2011 Hilltop Challenge in San Francisco
** in Prescott
Home games in ALL CAPS
No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Yr.
1 James Douglas G 6-0 175 Fr.
2 Michael Dunn G 6-0 180 Jr.
10 Jywrell Wilson G 6-3 175 Jr.
11 Gabe Rogers G 6-2 175 Jr.
12 Danny Cheek G 6-4 180 Fr.
20 Gaellan Bewernick F 6-6 215 Fr.
21 Stallon Saldivar G 6-0 185 Jr.
22 Colin Gruber G 6-3 173 Fr.
23 Luis Flores G 6-3 175 So.
33 Max Jacobsen F 6-8 230 So.
34 Durrell Norman G 6-4 197 Sr.
40 Ben Olayinka F 6-7 218 Jr.
42 Ephraim Ekanem F 6-7 230 Jr.