By RJ Walters / Daily News Sports Editor
As published in the Hillsdale Daily News on March 26, 2009
To remain competitive in the GLIAC every night, year-to-year there can be no lull in recruiting, regardless of the sport.
Hillsdale men’s basketball coach John Tharp understands that to a tee and he said he’s bringing in some size, athleticism and toughness in his second recruiting class as the Chargers’ head coach.
Anthony Manno (Dearborn Divine Child), Tony Nelson (Jenison), Nick Washburn (Seymour High School/Mahomet, Ill.), and Chris Casterline (Centreville) will all join the men’s basketball team as incoming freshmen for the 2009-10 season.
With the graduation of Tony Gugino, Keith MacKenzie, Travis Worst and Chris Skaggs several key holes need to be plugged, meaning this group of freshmen could potentially make waves, although the sophomore class and several redshirt freshmen from last season will compete for minutes as well.
Tharp said there is plenty of time between now and next season to figure out which players fit in where.
“Everything will be determined by how guys walk in, in the fall. We’ll rely on some of our experienced guys for certain, but we will have a lot of sophomores and a lot of freshman who are ready to contribute,” he said. “I imagine it will take most of the fall for things to shake out and then we’ll figure out if anyone is red-shirting and what our rotation is going to look like.”
Washburn might be the most highly touted of the recruits, and he may not even be playing Division II basketball if not for an injury suffered in May 2008.
The 6-9, 240 pound post presence was receiving calls from D-I schools until he broke the venicular bone in his foot, causing him to be sidelined for two months, including most of the summer, when coaches are blazing the recruiting trail.
Nonetheless, he is extremely pleased to be a Charger, according to comments he made to IlliniHQ.com, an Illinois sports Web site, in December.
“I get along with the coaches really well,” Washburn said in a Dec. 2 article. “They’re just great coaches. I saw a couple games. I like their style of play. I got along with the players really well…it just seemed like the right fit for me.”
Washburn said he appreciated the Hillsdale coaching staff’s honesty and candor, traits he said not all schools had.
“There was another school that put on a petty front,” Washburn said. “Then I figured out after I made a commitment (to them) I called the coaches and I got a complete different side of the story from them and really kind of jerkish comments about other programs. It was almost a surprise to me.”
Washburn played for the Illinois Wolves AAU team with players who are going on to play at Wisconsin and Illinois according to Tharp and he earned a 4.02 GPA in high school.
Tharp said Washburn’s foot is fully healed, but unfortunately his senior season was cut short in January when a nerve in his shoulder was crushed, forcing him into a 10-hour surgery to treat the injury.
Nonetheless Tharp said he expects the big man to possibly grow another inch and he didn’t try to hide his excitement in landing him.
“He’s got a big frame, a different body type than a guy like Tony (Gugino) and we think his by his sophomore or junior year we’re gonna really like what he brings to the floor.”
What Washburn brings in size, Tharp said Manno brings in toughness.
Manno played in one of the toughest leagues in the state, the Detroit Catholic League. He was a McDonald’s All-American nominee, and helped lead his team to a first-place finish in the Catholic League as a junior in 2007-08. Manno also earned All-State, All-Catholic and All-City honors throughout his career.
“That kid is a warrior, that’s the definition of him. He’s strong and relentless,” Tharp said. “Yeah he has some things to work on, but every night you know what you’re going to get…and in practice he’s the kind of guy who will push his teammates a step further, the kind of guy you wish all your players were.”
Tharp said he has a tireless work ethic and shoots 400-500 shots a day on his own time.
He is also a 4.0 student, who led his AAU team in scoring, pouring in 24 points per game.
Nelson, the younger brother of Hillsdale College football alum Derek Nelson, is a 6-9 wingman who drew interest from big-time programs early in his high school career.
“His sophomore year he was looked at by Washington State I know, and some mid-majors,” Tharp said. “But he played with a ton of talent on his AAU team, so it was hard to stand out and the past few seasons he’s had some young guards on his high school team, so he hasn’t always gotten the ball in the greatest spots or positions.”
He was one of the state’s top 3-point shooters as a junior at Jenison High School and was named All-Conference. He averaged more than 10 points and 10 rebounds per game in his last two seasons.
Tharp said he Nelson is “as skilled a 6-9 kid as we’re going to get here” and he likes how Nelson can handle the ball well, find teammates wide open and even stroke an occasional 3-pointer.
Casterline distinguished himself as a college-caliber point guard at Centreville High School when he set the school record with 163 assists as a junior in 2007-08, and had more than 300 assists total in his final two seasons.
He also swiped 136 steals in his final two seasons, ranking among the 10 best in the state in that category. Casterline is another 4.0 student who is the president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Chapter of his high school. He plans to study medicine at Hillsdale College, and has worked at several mission trips through his high school years.
“He comes from a great family and is a pure point guard,” Tharp said. “He makes his teammates better and knows how to distribute and protect the ball.”
The Chargers are already getting into individual workouts and have said farewell to the 2009 senior class, something that is never easy to come to grips with, Tharp said.
“We met the Thursday before spring break and had a meeting as a team and after the first part of it we said goodbye to the seniors, they walked out the door one last time and that was it,” he said. “After all the battles they went through with our guys…after counting on them and being able to call timeouts and just draw things up to get the ball Tony when we needed..it’s just kind of a “wow” experience, but we’re excited to get into individual workouts and see what we’ve got.”