Midwestern State coach Nelson Haggerty announced the signings of nine new additions for the 2013-14 season Wednesday afternoon.
But it's far from an overhaul for the Mustangs, who return 11 players that have played or practiced for at least a semester with a program which has advanced to the NCAA Division II postseason for each of the last five seasons and six of the last seven including Elite Eight runs in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
"It's great when you have guys back who have been a part of this program," MSU coach Nelson Haggerty said. "Last year, we didn't have many back. It's nice when you have 11 guys have been a part of what we have done in the past. We have a lot to build on."
The signing class includes a quartet of guard including junior transfer Kevin Wagner (McLennan College) with freshmen Cory Bennett (Iowa Park HS), Michael Ashiofu (Alief Elsik HS) and Devante Pullum (Little Elm HS).
The versatile Xavier Blackburn (North Dakota State College of Science) possesses the ability to play inside and out and is joined in the front court by transfers Tavarion Nix (Redlands JC), DeVaughn Jones (Lackawanna College) and Abiodun Adegoke (Western Texas) along with freshman Nick Powell (Henrietta HS).
"These guys are hungry and have the desire to win the national championship this season," Haggerty said. "They have had great off seasons and are ready to get on the floor."
Midwestern State meshes a very deep mixture of guards into the backcourt heading into the 2013-14 campaign.
A pair of starters in senior Cam Adderley (9.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg) and junior Derrell Gibbs (5.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 2.1 apg) anchor the unit and are rejoined by Monzaigo Williams, JaMichael Rivers and DeJuan Plummer.
Williams ranked second on the team at 12 points per game and led the Lone Star Conference with 5.3 assists per game before his season was cut short at 14 games due to academic issues.
"Monzaigo had proven to be one of the top point guards in the conference," Haggerty said. "We have the luxury of having very experienced wings in Gibbs and Adderley. They give us toughness and can defend. (Rivers and Plummer) have also started for us in the past. This proves to be our most competitive group. And with the addition of Wagner, Ashiofu, Bennett and Blackburn, our perimeter shooting is definitely better than it has been in the past."
Rivers earned All-LSC honorable mention in 2011-12 averaging 10.5 points and 3.2 rebounds a game while starting 33 games helping the Mustangs advance to a third consecutive Elite Eight in 2011-12.
"J-Mike has looked great in the offseason," Haggerty said. "He has proven to be one of our better defenders and can do so many things for our basketball team. We're excited to have his quiet leadership and competitive nature affect our team in such a positive way."
Plummer was a key reserve in 2011-12 scoring 5.5 points in 15.3 minutes per game.
"We are very excited to have DeJuan back for his senior year," Haggerty said. "We're looking forward to him building on a good junior year for us. He's played in the biggest of games here and has shown a great deal of growth which we are hoping will lead to an outstanding senior year."
Haggerty is also excited for the development of Patrick Smith, a redshirt-freshman from Houston Jones High School.
Wagner is certainly no stranger to Wichita Falls. He was born here, his father and high school coach – Tony – was a star at Rider High School and many remember his exploits during his prep career at Lubbock Estacado High School.
The 5-7, 160-pound point guard averaged 4.0 points, 4.1 assists and 2.3 rebounds in 17.3 minutes per game last season at McLennan Community College where he ranked 10th in NJCAA Division I in assist-to-turnover ratio at 3.4.
Wagner played in 18 games and made six starts as a true freshman at Texas Tech in 2011-12 averaging 2.5 points, 1.5 assists and 0.4 steals in 14.8 minutes per game.
He was a two-time Class 3A All-State performer at Estacado leading the Matadors to a state title as a junior in 2009-10.
"Kevin is a very athletic and quick point guard," Haggerty said. "He comes from a great high school program playing for his dad at Estacado. He helped Estacado to a state title as one of the better guards in the State of Texas during his high school career. We're excited about his scoring ability and winning attitude. He will be a very exciting player to watch at Midwestern State."
Ashiofu, a 6-5 guard, helped Alief Elsik High to four playoff appearances and a pair of Region 3-5A quarterfinal appearances during his prep career. He sported averages of 17.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.3 steals a game as a senior last season earning VYPE Magazine All-Greater Houston honorable mention.
"It's very rare to get a freshman with his size, athleticism and skill set," Haggerty said. "He's one of the best shooters in the City of Houston. He was the leading scorer for his team over the past two seasons and is just a winner. Michael adds to our perimeter shooting and has the ability to be an outstanding basketball player now and for the years to come."
The 6-4, 210-pound Blackburn possesses the ability to play both the guard and forward positions. He used the versatility to average 12.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists a game last season at North Dakota State College of Science showing consistency with posting 10-or-more points in 20 of 27 games.
Blackburn rated as the 31st on the Louisiana Basketball Report and Prep Insider Top 50 list following his senior campaign at St. Thomas More High School in New Iberia, La. He earned District 4-5A and All-Acadiana first-team honors after averaging 17.8 points and 8.0 rebounds per game as a senior in 2009-10. He originally signed and played at Baton Rouge Community College.
"Xavier is an ultimate winner. He can do so many things for this basketball team," Haggerty said. "He's an outstanding rebounder, shooter and passer. He has a knack for scoring and possesses the ability to guard many different positions on the floor."
The 6-3 Bennett enjoyed a stellar basketball and football career at Iowa Park High.
"Cory is a very good shooter," Haggerty said. "He will give us some much needed perimeter shooting and great size and his football background definitely helps with the physical mentality of the LSC."
The group joins Little Elm High standout Devante Pullum who inked in the early signing period.
"We have more depth at the guard position," Haggerty said. "This group has great speed, athleticism and has shown great leadership."
The Mustangs added great depth up front with the signings of transfers DeVaughn Jones and Tavarion Nix to go along with a trio of returners and another big man who made the jump to MSU prior to the spring semester.
Seniors Eddie D'Haiti (5.0 points, 4.2 rebounds) and Derek Kaster (6.1 points, 4.4 rebounds) played big minutes last season while sharpshooting junior Matt Gallagher enters his fourth season in the program.
"Our forwards are very versatile," Haggerty said."We have a good balance of toughness, athleticism and skill that will make us hard to guard. We have guys (D'Haiti, Kaster and Nick Powell) who can shoot the 3 to stretch the defense. We also have very good size (Jones, Nix and Adegoke) who we feel great about in controlling the paint area."
Abiodun Adegoke spent the spring semester on campus. The 6-8, 250-pounder averaged 8.2 points and 4.3 rebounds a game in six games during the 2010-11 season at Western Texas. He averaged 3.9 points and 3.7 rebounds a game for the Westerners in 2009-10.
"B is one the biggest guys we have coached here. He is strong, athletic and can run the floor extremely well for his size," Haggerty said. "We can't wait to have him on the floor. He'll give us a great presence underneath."
The 6-7, 205-pound Nix averaged 9.2 points and ranked ninth in NJCAA Division I with 10.7 rebounds a game last season at Redlands Community College in El Reno, Okla.
"One thing we needed to get better at was our athleticism and rebounding and Tavarion provides both," Haggerty said. "He was one of the best rebounders in junior college and has a great motor with superb athleticism."
The 6-5, 205-pound Jones poured in 19.7 points and pulled in 10.0 rebounds a game last season at Lackawanna College in Scranton, Pa.
"DeVaughn was runner-up to the player of the year in his region," Haggerty said. "He averaged 20 and 10 which is hard to do at any level. He has outstanding athleticism, has a knack for putting the ball in the basket and is an outstanding rebounder and defender."
The trio of newcomers joins Henrietta High standout Nick Powell, who signed in the early period.
Midwestern State garnered the No. 16 ranking in the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches' Association Preseason Poll released Wednesday afternoon.
The Mustangs are coming off of a disappointing 2012 campaign snapping a run of four consecutive Lone Star Conference titles and two appearances in the NCAA Division II Championships in 2010 and 2011, but appear loaded in 2013.
Midwestern returns three runners that have earned all-region honors including seniors Ashley Flores and Janel Campbell and junior Michelle Krezonoski.
The trio is joined by a pack of newcomers including senior Abigail Gonzalez and Melody Caldwell, juniors Kim Krezonoski and Cara Mack and sophomores Brittany Adams, Carrie Finson, Alex Kohrs, Ana Lopez and Maira Salinas.
The roster is bolstered by junior transfers Emma Ramirez, Rubi Rodarte, Gabby Ruiz and Lucia Trejo, returning redshirts Danielle Chavarria and C.J. Frizzell and incoming freshman Maranda Rodriguez.
MSU is one of six teams from the strong South Central Region to garner preseason attention joining No. 2 Adams State (Colo.), No. 3 Western State (Colo.), No. 8 Colorado-Colorado Springs, No. 10 West Texas A&M and No. 23 Metro State (Colo.).
The Mustangs rated fifth in the South Central Region preseason rankings placing behind No. 1 Adams State, No. 2 Western State, No. 3 Colorado-Colorado Springs and No. 4 West Texas A&M and ahead of No. 6 Metro State, No. 7 Dallas Baptist (Texas), No. 8 Fort Lewis (Colo.), No. 9 Colorado Mines and No. 10 Eastern New Mexico.
MSU opens the season playing host to the Strohman Dental/MSU Stampede on Thursday, Sep. 5 at the Memorial Athletic Complex. Start time is set for 7 p.m.