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DEARBORN, Mich. - The University of Michigan-Dearborn men's basketball team has continued to improve each year since head coach Taylor Langley took over the program three years ago. With 11 varsity players returning and a strong crop of newcomers, the Wolverines are ready to turn some heads in the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference in 2016-17.
UM-Dearborn opens the season against Wilberforce University at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in Wilberforce, Ohio. The Wolverines were picked to finish fifth in the WHAC by the league's coaches, garnering one first-place vote after finishing 11-19 overall and 6-16 in the WHAC a year ago.
"I think the first thing that is apparent is the increased level of talent from top to bottom of our players," Langley said. "However, on a much deeper level, everyone in our basketball family can really feel how different the culture is. Our team has great chemistry the guys really love and support each other in basketball and in life. That translates into selfless basketball on the court."
The Wolverines return three players that averaged double-digits in scoring a year ago, including senior forward Marcus Williams (SR/Lagos, Nigeria), who led the team in scoring in 2015-16. Williams is coming off a year where he scored 15.8 points per game, while finishing third on the team in rebounding and second in blocks. Williams made 45.6 percent of his shots, including hitting 43 attempts from deep. He was as close to automatic at the line as the Wolverines saw a year ago, making 112-of-142 free-throw attempts.
Xavier Crofford (SO/Detroit, MI) showed his potential early as a freshman in 2015-16, scoring 12.5 points per game and finishing second on the team with 62 assists. He was second on the team with 43 made 3-pointers, while adding 3.5 rebounds per game.
Returning in the low post is 6-foot-8 junior forward Jason Penn (JR/Detroit, MI), who has the potential to be a double-double machine for the Wolverines this season. Penn finished his sophomore season averaging 11 points and six rebounds for the Wolverines.
"The strength in our team is in the group, not in the individuals," Langley said. "We have a lot of talented players, but the way they play together is what can make us special. We will rely on our three team captains, Xavier Crofford, Marcus Williams and Jason Penn, for leadership. However, we have many other players who have great leadership qualities that we expect to step up and provide leadership in other areas as well as basketball. This summer has been the most successful summer we have had as a program. We have had a very strong commitment from a majority of our team to come in and work on their skills and bodies all summer long."
Senior transfer Jeff Cain (SR/Lansing, MI ) comes to UM-Dearborn after playing for WHAC rival Aquinas College. Cain averaged 4.5 points per game and scored in double figures four times, while playing in 28 games for the Saints in 2014-15. Transfer Ashton Curd (JR/Detroit, MI), who redshirted for UM-Dearborn a year ago, will provide an ultra-athletic guard in the rotation. Langley see Curd as having the potential to be one of the top guards in the WHAC.
Donovan Farrell (SO/Detroit, MI) has jumped from the Wolverine junior varsity team and figures to see playing time with his ability to defend on the ball. True freshman Cody Kegley (FR/Yale, MI) has impressed with his scoring and playmaking in preseason practice and will look to earn time on the court in his first season.
"From a talent standpoint, I believe our program has caught up to the top teams in the league," Langley said. "We have the ability to both shut down and score the ball on any opponent we face. Where we finish will simply depend on our level of physical and mental toughness, as well as the energy we are able to sustain in games. If our team can fight through adversity and stay together there is no reason we can't compete for a league championship."