Weather Updates

Men’s Basketball: First-year coach Joel Cotton leads Judson

Bartlett graduate Luke Labedzki returns for JudsUniversity men's basketball team this season. | FILE ~ SUN-TIMES MEDIA

Bartlett graduate Luke Labedzki returns for the Judson University men's basketball team this season. | FILE ~ SUN-TIMES MEDIA

storyidforme: 39582734
tmspicid: 14574723
fileheaderid: 6653210

Updated: November 6, 2012 7:39PM

In one way Judson University’s Joel Cotton has an ideal situation for a first-year head coach, but in other ways he faces a steep uphill challenge.

Cotton has the advantage many first-year coaches would love in that he served last year as assistant to Tony Tompkins, who is now the school’s athletic director. He knows his returning talent well, and even the new ones.

“Because of the situation, I was able to be involved in the recruiting class, as well,” Cotton said.

On the other hand, it’s a team almost completely retooled due to graduation losses, one lacking much returning scoring, and it’s facing a difficult situation in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference.

The CCAC dropped a two-division format after losing teams, so five teams including St. Xavier, St. Francis and Olivet Nazarene have dropped down from the NAIA Division I group to Division II. It means fewer scholarships for those teams, but for the next few years they have an advantage on schools like Judson due to already-stockpiled talent. And now the Eagles get to face those teams twice a year instead of once.

On the court, the challenge is adapting playing styles to fit talent. The Eagles will slow it down more this year than when they played up-tempo en route to a 10-21 season in 2011-12.

“We’re going be more of a half-court team,” Cotton said. “We’ll execute in the half-court. This year with our personnel there isn’t a lot of speed and quickness, but we do have the ability to go short and have some good post players.”

The taller players include former Wheaton Academy 6-foot-7 forward Jason Roy, who scored 4.2 points a game last year, and senior 6-7 center Anthony Ahlers (5.8 ppg).

“Anthony Ahlers has our most experience and was a freshman on our last national tournament team,” Cotton said. “He’s been through the battles and we need him to score and be a leading rebounder.”

Freshman 6-4 forward Turner Schwarz of Burleson, Texas, could start, as well. Off the bench, the Eagles have 6-8 center recruit Alex Graupmann. Senior Deon Thomas (6-4) of Westmont also figures to contribute.

“We’re going to have to get it inside to be successful because that’s where our experience is,” Cotton said.

However, there are outside scorers. Returning junior guard Frankie Cleope of Bartlett (3.3 ppg), senior 5-10 guard Bob McCarthy (2.2 ppg), and senior 5-10 guard Nick Morgan (6.3 ppg) are back. Former Bartlett Hawk junior Luke Labedzki will be among the better 3-point shooters.

The freshman recruiting class also includes guards Luke Pearson (6-0), Justin Hill (5-11), and Skyler Sandry (6-0), and former Wheaton Academy center Wylie Kopp (6-6).

Judson opened its season with a 70-64 loss to Indiana University-Kokomo and played last weekend in the Mount Mercy tournament.

“I feel like we played hard, the effort was there but we played a little nervous,” Cotton said. “A lot of guys played like it was their first college game and it showed.

“Obviously the freshmen haven’t played and the returning players didn’t play significant roles in the past. So everybody is going to have to get used to their new roles in the early season.”

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.