WMU preview: Broncos hit by injury bug out of the gate

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Big things were expected from Western Michigan last season after being picked to win the Mid-American Conference championship while led by Preseason Player of the Year Thomas Wilder.

Well, the Broncos finished 17-15 (9-9 MAC) and didn’t even make it to Cleveland to play for the conference championship, blowing a 27-4 first half lead in a first-round 79-78 loss to Akron in Kalamazoo.

Steve Hawkins is the dean of MAC coaches, entering his 16th season, but the Broncos are only 66-64 (37-35 MAC) since winning their last conference championship in 2014.

There are no big expectations for the Broncos this season with Wilder graduated and guard Reggie Jones (10.1 ppg) transferring to Tulsa.

The Broncos are picked to finish fourth in the MAC West by coaches and media members.

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The Broncos still have 7-foot, 240-pound senior Seth Dugan, along with 6-5 senior guard Josh Davis, 6-8 junior forward Brandon Johnson and senior guard Bryce Moore, but Dugan has been injury prone, Moore is lost for the season due to a knee injury and Johnson will be sidelined indefinitely due to the same reason.

Davis (Detroit Henry Ford) averaged 10.7 points and 6.3 rebounds last season.

“We have a lot of injuries right now which has been both bad and good, but I really like our attitude,” Hawkins said. “I feel like the group of kids that we brought in, we have six new kids in, has been a return to our culture of toughness and physicality.

“We have quite a few injuries right now and some of them are serious and they are to our vets and so again that’s the bad news. The good news is that we know who it is already and the young guys are already getting minutes. Last year’s season got derailed because of our injuries and they were happening throughout the course of the season so that was much more difficult to deal with.”

So, who are the injured Broncos?

“Seth Dugan was basically out last year, the only time he came out of his boot was to play in a game and he was very limited,” Hawkins said. “He was playing great when we began the year last year with the stress fracture in his foot so he’s on his way back from that, but he had surgery at the end of it.

“Every coach will tell you that players are made during the offseason and some of these injuries prevented kids from working in the offseason, so Seth was one of those guys, but he’s working his way back into it and he’ll be big for us.

“Bryce Moore is most likely out for the year. We found out that at the end of the year last year that he played the year basically with a torn ACL, which I never even heard of. I didn’t know anybody was capable of doing that, but Bryce did and he had surgery at the end of the season and it doesn’t look like he’ll be back at all. Brandon Johnson had knee surgery over the summer and it’s questionable if he’ll be back at all.”

Kawanise Wilkins, a 6-5 sophomore who averaged 14.8 points and 9.1 rebounds at Barton County Community College, and 6-6 freshman Patrick Emilien are among the newcomers.

Wilkins earned first-team all-city honors while playing his high school ball at Chicago Farragut Academy. Emilien was selected as one of 25 Canadians to compete in the NBA-sanctioned All-Canadian Showcase.

Western Michigan Broncos

Coach: Steve Hawkins (16th season, 270-219, 150-107 MAC)

Last year’s record: 17-15, 9-9

Top returning players: Josh Davis, 6-5, Sr., guard/forward (10.7 points, 6.3 rebounds); Bryce Moore, 6-2, Sr., guard (9.8 points); Brandon Johnson, 6-8, Jr., forward (9.4 points, 5.9 rebounds); Seth Dugan, 7-0, Sr., center (5.3 points, 4.2 rebounds)

This player will surprise everyone with a big season: Kawanise “Squeaky” Wilkins is a 6-5, 235-pound sophomore forward who played his high school ball at Chicago Farragut Academy, where he was a first-team all-city player before averaging 14.8 points and 9.1 rebounds his lone season at Barton County C.C. in Kansas.

WMU can win the MAC championship if ... Davis and Dugan have All-MAC first-team-caliber seasons, Johnson returns from his knee injury for conference play, Wilkins plays to his potential and the Broncos get big contributions from sophomore guard Michael Flowers.

Toughest opponent: The Broncos take the short trip east to Ann Arbor on Dec. 15 to play national runner-up Michigan and assistant coach Saddi Washington, who helped WMU win its last NCAA Tournament game against Clemson back in 1998. They also travel to Cincinnati on Nov. 19 to play the Bearcats, who are coming off a 31-win season.