Brian Wardle

Nate Buss, Warren Jones

Leading scorer Warren Jones dismissed from Bradley program

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Already expected to be an inexperienced team in Brian Wardle’s first season as head coach, the Bradley Braves will also have to account for the loss of their leading scorer in 2015-16.

Wednesday afternoon it was reported by the Peoria Journal-Star that Wardle has dismissed guard Warren Jones from the program. Jones, who was to be a senior this upcoming season, averaged 11.9 points per game last season and was the team’s leading returning scorer. Jones put forth that scoring average in 21 games, making just five starts, and he missed eight games due to a stress fracture in his foot.

Jones was also suspended for four games last season after being arrested on charges of using fake identification and underage drinking at a Peoria strip club in late-January.

Wardle issues the following comment to the Journal-Star regarding the dismissal of Jones from the program:

“I tell our student-athletes that where much is given, much is expected,” Wardle said. “Being a student-athlete at Bradley University is a privilege.  In the classroom, community and on the floor, we have high expectations and standards in this program.  When someone does not live up to them on a daily basis, changes need to be made.  We are here to assist Warren if he would like to pursue other opportunities to continue his basketball career.”

Jones’ dismissal means that Bradley will have to account for the loss of its top five scorers from last season’s nine-win team, with senior point guard Ka’Darryl Bell being the leading returning scorer at 6.1 ppg. The Braves add eight freshmen to the program, and in total nine of their 13 scholarship players will be either freshmen or sophomores.

Green Bay hires Linc Darner as new head coach


Green Bay has its new head coach, according to multiple reports on Friday afternoon.

Linc Darner, the head coach of Division II Florida Southern, will replace Brian Wardle as head coach of the Horizon League program. Wardle left for to fill the same position at Bradley on March 27. In five seasons, Wardle was 95-64 (54–20) with two NIT appearances with Green Bay.

Jeff Goodman of ESPN and Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports both reported the news.

Darner, who played for Gene Keady at Purdue, led Florida Southern to the Division II national championship two weeks ago, completing a 34-1 seasons. Daniel Turner, a senior forward for the Mocs, had transferred from Green Bay.

Last season, Kim Anderson led Central Missouri to the D2 title before being hired by Missouri, his alma mater. He has 12 years of head coaching experience all at the Division II level at both Florida Southern and St. Joseph’s College (Indiana).

Darner will be taking over a Horizon League program that loses top scorers Keifer Sykes and Greg Mays, but does retain Jordan Fouse.

Bradley announces Brian Wardle hired as head coach

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Bradley has hired Brian Wardle as their new head coach, the school announced late on Friday night.

“It’s an honor to be the next head coach at Bradley,” Wardle said in a statement released by the school. “Being from Illinois and understanding the program’s success, tradition and support was a real draw for me. I am excited to bring my family to Peoria, getting to know the community and building a foundation and identity for Bradley basketball to last a long time.”

Wardle has been the head coach at Green Bay for the past five seasons, leading them to two straight NITs and a Horizon League regular season title in 2014. Prior to getting the head coaching gig, Wardle was an assistant with the program for five seasons as well as an assistant at Marquette for three years.

Wardle will replace Geno Ford, who struggled in his four seasons as the head coach of the Braves. Bradley was 9-24 last season and just 3-15 in Missouri Valley play.

Kerem Kanter becomes a late commitment to Green Bay’s incoming class

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On Tuesday afternoon, Green Bay announced that forward Kerem Kanter had joined the program for this upcoming season. Kanter is the younger brother of Utah Jazz center, Enes Kanter.

Kerem Kanter, the native of Istanbul, Turkey, was well traveled in his high school career. He began at the MacDuffie School before transferring to another Massachusetts prep school, Wilbraham & Monson, for the 2012-2013 year. He spent last season as a postgraduate at IMG Academy in Florida. The lefty power forward had received interest from high-major teams.

“I decided to come to Green Bay because of their winning attitude,” Kanter said in a statement. “The program is about winning and improving their players. Another reason is the relationship I built with the coaching staff. They did an amazing job recruiting me, and I felt like this place is where I want to be. I know they won the Horizon League last year and had a great record. Coming to a team which has a chance to win their league again and go to a tournament and make some noise is a great opportunity.”

Kanter joins one of the top mid-major teams for the 2014-2015 season. Green Bay won 24 games, and was the top team in the conference before having its NCAA title hopes dashed by Milwaukee in overtime of the Horizon League Tournament semifinals. He will join a frontline that needs to account for the graduation of Alec Brown. Luckily the Phoenix has the majority of its core back, led by leading scorer Keifer Sykes.

“We are very excited to add Kerem Kanter to our program,” Green Bay head coach Brian Wardle added. “To have a young man come over from Turkey and represent our program is exciting not only for Green Bay Basketball but also for our entire University. Kerem is a skilled forward that brings an ability to score from the inside and out. He has a great bloodline of basketball in his family, and we know he is extremely excited to get to Green Bay to pursue his dream of getting a college education and being a Division I player.”

Kanter joins guards Daeshon Francis and Khalil Small and JuCo center Henry Uwadiae in Phoenix’s Class of 2014.

Green Bay, head coach Brian Wardle agree to new five-year contract

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On the heels of a 24-win season in which Green Bay won the Horizon League regular season title and appeared in the Postseason NIT, head coach Brian Wardle has received a new five-year contract. The news was announced by the school Thursday afternoon,  and in four seasons at the helm Wardle has a record of 70-56.

“A Horizon League Championship, a 24-win season, Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and postseason play certainly elevated Phoenix men’s basketball this year, and I am thrilled Brian and his staff will continue to lead our men as we strive to get to the next level,” Green Bay AD Mary-Ellen Gillespie stated in the release.

The Phoenix will have to account for the loss of three seniors led by 7-foot-1 forward/center Alec Brown, but four of their top five scorers from the 2013-14 season will return led by guard Keifer Sykes. Sykes averaged 20.3 points, 4.8 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game as a junior, earning Horizon League Player of the Year honors.

Green Bay’s regular season title was their first league crown since 1995-96, and the Phoenix played in a postseason tournament for the second consecutive season. Green Bay participated in the CIT in 2013.

Defense serves as catalyst for Horizon League leader Green Bay

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With senior center Alec Brown and junior guard Keifer Sykes leading the way, the Green Bay Phoenix entered the 2013-14 season with high hopes. After losing seven games by six points or less in 2012-13, another year of seasoning for the Phoenix had the potential to make a major difference in regards to their ability to close out tight games.

That’s been the case for Brian Wardle’s team to this point in the season, as the Phoenix boast an 18-4 overall record and are 8-1 in Horizon League play. And the run began, as has been the case for a number of mid-major programs over the years, during non-conference play.

While the Phoenix did lose games to Wisconsin and Harvard, they did manage to knock off a Virginia team that currently sits in second place in the ACC. Not only did those games provide Green Bay with lessons that could be applied to Horizon League play, but they also resulted in the confident feeling that they can compete with anyone.

“One thing our guys learned [during non-conference play] is that when we’re healthy we can play with anyone,” Wardle told NBC Sports this week. “There’s an expectation in the locker room now that we can’t beat ourselves. We have to go out there and play Green Bay basketball and play to our identity.

“I thought we had many opportunities to beat Wisconsin and couldn’t finish it off,” Wardle added. “We had the lead with five minutes remaining at Harvard and let the game slip away, and we got Virginia. So we’ve had some very competitive non-conference games that have prepared us for Horizon League play and have definitely helped us, especially on the road.”

Green Bay has forged its identity on the defensive end of the floor, an area in which many of the nation’s best teams perform well. Because on nights in which a team struggles offensively, sound defense can help make up for those woes and keep them in games. Green Bay currently leads the Horizon League in field goal percentage defense (39.0%) and ranks second in three-point percentage defense (31.5%), and they’re also second in the league in defensive efficiency.

“That’s our identity. That’s what’s in our locker room everywhere, and that’s what I preach as a coach,” noted Wardle. “That’s what we spend three-quarters of our practices on, how we defend and how we rebound.”

As a result of their execution defensively the Phoenix have been able to win games regardless of how many points are scored, including a 62-52 win over Detroit in which they shot just 28.3% from the field with that being the lowest field goal percentage in a win in school history. With Brown averaging more than three blocks per game and Jordan Fouse and Greg Mays also being capable defenders, Green Bay has the pieces needed to win low-scoring affairs.

But even with a solid defense at his disposal, the fact that Wardle can call on two of the Horizon League’s best players in Brown and Sykes for points certainly doesn’t hurt.

The 7-foot-1 Brown has the ability to score both inside and out, as he possesses range out beyond the three-point line. Currently averaging 16.0 points and 6.0 rebounds per game, the senior center is shooting 48.8% from the field and is also one of Green Bay’s most proficient long-range shooters (39.7%). Given the scarcity of players possessing that range of skills (and footwork), Brown is a tough matchup for opponents on most nights.

On the other end of the spectrum is the 5-foot-11 Sykes, who may be one of the most exciting players in college basketball. With his ability to finish well above the rim the junior from Chicago has put together some impressive highlights, but to think his game is solely about flash would be a mistake. Outside of his three-point percentage Sykes has improved on all of his numbers from a season ago, and he’s currently averaging 20.6 points, 5.0 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game.

And while he’s only shooting 31% from three this season, the fact that he made more than 42% of those attempts a season ago has helped open up driving lanes for Sykes. And that ultimately benefits his teammates as well.

“The other guys play off of Alec and Keifer. We have a lot of guys, high-energy players, around them who just make plays off of them,” Wardle said. “We’re an unselfish group. When you have a senior (Brown) who doesn’t care about how many points he scores or individual notoriety; all he wants is success and Keifer’s the same way. That provides a good environment and culture in the locker room.”

Brown and Sykes are the leaders, but by no means is this a two-man team. Players such as Fouse, Mays, Carrington Love and Vincent Garrett have all been valuable contributors, and in total Green Bay has eight players averaging double digits in minutes. Wardle’s guys understand their roles, and just as importantly they’ve accepted those roles.

Yet even with their successful start there are still areas in which the Phoenix can continue to grow, with Wardle citing the need for them to improve their shot selection and spacing on offense. And their defense will also be important, with Green Bay needing to make strides on the boards. At present time the Phoenix rank eighth in the Horizon League in defensive rebounding percentage, and the act of getting teams to miss shots doesn’t hold much value if you can’t complete the possession by grabbing the resulting rebound.

“Defensive discipline and consistency from start to finish, and rebounding, will be our keys,” noted Wardle when asked about what lies ahead for Green Bay. “Our best offense is our defense and I tell the guys that all the time, because when we get stops we can run and we can run fast. But it doesn’t start unless you get stops and rebounds.”

Just past the halfway point of league play Green Bay holds a two-game lead on Cleveland State and Valparaiso, with the Crusaders having handed Green Bay (who was without the injured Brown) their lone Horizon League defeat. Defending and rebounding grow in importance as the season approaches March, with those areas being the difference between “contender” and “champion” in many instances.

If Green Bay can continue to make strides in those areas, they’re more than capable of making the program’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 1996.