Purple and Gold ready to defy expectations

Brendan Reidy , Courier Staff

The temperature is starting to get a little brisk, and the leaves are starting to fall. That means basketball season is right around the corner. The Western Illinois men’s basketball team will look to build off what they created last season.

The team welcomes back Kobe Webster and Isaac Johnson, two key cogs in the Leathernecks rotation. They are joined by reigning Summit League Defensive Player of the Year in Brandon Gilbeck, Jeremiah Usiosefe and CJ Duff.

These are the familiar faces returning for the upcoming basketball team. With a good foundation in the place, the Leathernecks brought in one of the best recruiting classes the program has ever seen. The recruiting class was headlined by Zion Young, Ben Pyle, Keshon Montague, and Perrion Little. All the players listed above will have significant roles within this team. Let’s take a deeper look into the rotation.

Kobe Webster is returning as a sophomore point guard this season. He was the leading scorer a season ago, averaging 15.9 points a contest and shooting 43.1 percent from beyond the arc. He led the team in assists and ranked third in the Summit with 3.5 dimes per game. This preseason he was named on the second team preseason All-Summit Team. This season with all the experience he built up as a freshman expect Webster to explode on the hardwood and display his elite overall game.

Isaac Johnson is returning as a starting forward for the Leathernecks this season. He came onto the scene late last season, and had a very impressive second half of the year. He started in eleven games as a freshman, and made his presence felt. He had his best game of the season in the first round of The Summit League Tournament where he scored 17 points while adding 15 rebounds. He will look to pick up right where he left off from last season.

Brandon Gilbeck, the reigning Summit League Defensive Player of the Year, will be the senior leader of this year’s squad. He is the All-Time leader in blocked shots in Leatherneck history,and ranked 14th in the nation with 2.57 rejections per game. Last season he led the team in double doubles with six, and averaged 10 points per contest, while leading the Summit league in field goal percentage by shooting at 65.7 percent clip. Along with Webster, he was also named to the Preseason All-Summit Second Team and will look to finish out his Leatherneck career with a bang.

Jeremiah Usiosefe will be a returning sophomore this season. His season was cut short last year after a season-ending hip injury. Before the injury he was one of the most versatile players on the roster and could play almost any position. He averaged 6.2 points while shooting at a 38 percent mark from downtown. Usiosefe will look to regain the momentum he had before his injury last season and create waves in The Summit League this year.

CJ Duff is a junior shooting guard who has started in every game he has played in throughout his Leatherneck career. He is arguably the most fundamentally sound player on the roster and does all the little things well. He is one of their best on-ball defenders swiping 18 balls away a season ago. He will get the starting nod early in the season and is looking to improve all facets off his game.

This past year’s recruiting class may be the best Western has ever seen and is highlighted by Zion Young and Ben Pyle. Young, a combo guard, played for historic high school Simeon Academy on Chicago’s Southside, where he helped lead Simeon to the number one ranked team in Illinois. He was ranked as a three-star recruit by ESPN and will be one of the most explosive players in the entire Summit League for years to come.

Ben Pyle was tabbed “Mr. Basketball” in the state of Kansas, where he played McPherson high school. During his senior campaign he averaged 22 points, 7.6 rebounds, 4 assists, 2.5 steals, and 1.5 blocks per game. He was First Team All-State his Junior and Senior seasons, and he will look to bring his winning pedigree into the Leatherneck culture.

These players will lead the charge for the Leathernecks this upcoming season and it should be a good one. Old faces blending with new ones looking to create a contender within The Summit League, but it will be a tough road. Western Illinois will be playing a program-record 16 road games this upcoming season. They will also square off against Creighton and Nebraska, with Creighton being the opening game for the Leathernecks this season. A fun road lies ahead, so make sure to find a way to Western Hall this winter to check out your Fighting Leathernecks.

Twitter: breidytv