Drury basketball head coach Steve Hesser has announced commitments from six players to form the recruiting class for the defending NCAA-II national champion Panthers for the 2013-14 season.
The Panthers have added Mike Nwelue, a 6-foot-5 forward and transfer from NAIA Division I Southwestern Assemblies of God University (national runner-up in 2012-13); Deon Pettigrew, a 6-4 guard from Bellevue West High School in Bellvue, Neb.; Thomas Whittaker, a 5-9 guard from Springfield's Hillcrest High School; DaShaun Stark, a 6-5 guard from Springdale (Ark.) High School; Wendell Pierre, a 6-2 guard from Brown Mackie College in Salina, Kan.; and Sean Osler, a 6-5 forward from Butler County (Kan.) Community College.
"We believe this is a group that certainly fits our needs and will join our returning group of players to help fill some big shoes we lose to graduation," Hesser said. "These are a group of high-character guys and good students who are very athletic, played for great coaches and winning programs, and they know what's expected of them when they join the Drury Panthers basketball program.
"I'm confident it's a group that will also mesh very well with our returning guys as we strive to keep our program at a high-caliber national level."
Nwelue (pronounced New-well-ee), a former prep standout at Lewisville (Texas) High School, averaged 10.4 points and 7.2 rebounds as a sophomore for a Southwest Assemblies of God team that won a school-record 33 games and lost to Georgetown, Ky., in the NAIA Division I national title game in late March. Nwelue had 11 double-figure rebound games for the Waxahachie, Texas school, including a single-game high of 14, and also had two games of 20 or more points, including a season-high 21. (Click here for Nwelue video).
"Mike brings an explosive, athletic power game to the court," Hesser said. "He's a solid defender and rebounder who will add a lot of athleticism at both ends of the floor."
Pettigrew averaged 14.3 points and 9.2 rebounds at Bellevue as a senior this past winter, when he missed nine games due to injury. In his six games after the injury, the versatile guard averaged 18 points and 11 rebounds, including a 22-point, 14-rebound game in his first game back.
"Deon is a guard who has the ability to score in all three areas ... he can shoot, drive and score at the rim and also score at mid-range," Hesser said. "He's long, athletic, very skilled and can play everywhere on the floor."
Whittaker was the point man for a strong Hillcrest Hornets team coached by John Schaefer this past season, averaging 11.6 points while shooting 60 percent from the field (including 40 percent from 3-point range) and averaging 2 assists and nearly 2 steals per contest. He was a member of a Glendale HS team that won the Ozark Conference his junior year before transferring to HHS and winning another OC title as a senior.
"Thomas is very quick and will provide depth and quality ball-handling at the point guard position," Hesser said. "He's very tough, plays with a high motor and has a high basketball IQ. He'll be a good fit in our system and what we ask our point guards to do."
Stark tallied 13.6 points, 7.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game for Springdale's Bulldogs, who compete in the tough Class 7A brand of basketball in Arkansas that produced current DU standouts from the Fort Smith area in Ian Carter and Cameron Adams. Stark, a combination shooting guard/small forward and a three-year starter, earned All-Conference and All-State recognition after an 18-10 senior campaign. On separate occasions as a senior, Stark had games of 26 points (twice), 12 assists and 14 rebounds. (Click here for video).
"DaShaun can handle it, and his best attribute is his ability to drive it and cut," Hesser says. "He's very long and athletic as well, very solid defensively and played for a very strong Springdale team in a tremendous league."
Pierre, originally from Port Arthur, Texas, was the smooth floor general for a Brown Mackie team that finished 29-6 and qualified for the NJCAA national tourney. He averaged 12.0 points, 6.5 assists and 4.3 rebounds this past season. He shot 58 percent from the field, including 57 percent from 3-point range (12 for 21), and had single-game highs of 26 points, nine rebounds (twice) and 12 assists. Brown Mackie was 20-12 his freshman year, when he averaged 9 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds.
"Wendell is a big, strong, true point guard," Hesser says of the floor general who had drawn the interest of several NCAA D-I programs. "He really passes it well and can create for his teammates. He's a point guard with some power who can take it where he wants to go."
Osler, a former Cheney (Kan.) prep standout, averaged 11.0 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals for a 24-8 Grizzlies team. He had single-game highs of 21 points and 10 rebounds (twice) as a sophomore, after a prep career that saw him average 19 points and 9 rebounds as an all-state prep selection at Cheney.
"Sean can shoot it and has the ability to stretch a defense with his shot," Hesser says. "He's also strong and will provide a physical element down low for us in an area where we lose Teddy (Simniok)."
Drury finished 31-4 this past season in claiming the Great Lakes Valley Conference post-season tournament and its first NCAA-II national championship, including a 74-73 victory over Metro State in the title game in Atlanta that marked the Panthers' 23rd consecutive victory to finish off the campaign. The Panthers lost key seniors to graduation in All-America shooting guard Alex Hall, star point guard Brandon Lockhart and inside threat/forward Teddy Simniok.
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