The University of Michigan-Dearborn men's basketball team in 2012. (Dan Jenkins / MJ)

By Dan Jenkins, Staff Reporter

Men’s basketball during a timeout. (Dan Jenkins / MJ)

Leading into the upcoming men’s basketball season, players with the name “Wolverines” on their jerseys will have reason for optimism not only in Ann Arbor, but in Dearborn as well.

Following a disappointing finish to the 2012-2013 season, the UM-Dearborn Wolverines and head coach John Mackson have set the bar high for the approaching season. The team will suit 11 new players, including five incoming freshmen, four redshirt players, and two transfer students.

The Wolverines will return seven players from last year’s 7-23 team including 6-foot-8 senior Jeff Fick, who led the team in rebounding a season ago. Mackson has stressed that he is trying to build a team that can match up well with larger, more athletic teams in the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference (WHAC).

“This group of guys that we brought in this year has a legitimate opportunity to eventually compete at the highest level of our conference,” Mackson said. “One of our focuses, outside of length, in our recruiting was picking up guys that just knew how to play and I think that we did a good job of identifying those guys.”

This year, Mackson and his staff have tried to prepare the team quicker than in previous seasons by holding a training camp in August to accommodate incoming players and define roles early. Last season, the Wolverines sputtered down the stretch in a critical race to make the WHAC Tournament by losing eight of their last nine games.

“We broke it up a little bit more this year,” Mackson said. “We’re trying to give them a little more rest and keep them fresher a little further into the season. We also didn’t want to wait so the learning curve was slowed down, so we broke it down into chunks.”

The team will try to move forward after losing leading scorer and top defender Julius Porter to graduation. The Wolverines are looking to take a more team-centric approach to offense this season.

“I think we’re really going to be a different team,” Mackson said. “We’re going to have a much more balanced team. We had to go through Julius a lot because he was one of a few options that we had offensively, but this team picks up the offense better. Each player has their own strength when it comes to finishing on offense.”

Official practices are set to begin in October and will lead to the Wolverines opening the season at Roosevelt University (Chicago, IL) on Nov. 4 and come back to Dearborn on Nov. 9 for the home opener against the University of Saint Francis (Joliet, IL).

“We’re a year older, a year smarter,” Mackson said. “I believe that it will show on the court in terms of results.”