By: Dana Orr
The Highlanders still led by Corrigan, but several new faces will add intrigue to their 2013 Season.
After last season’s 35-45 record, after two straight playoff appearances, the Highlanders appeared to be heading for a crossroads, but they were in luck when the future 1st round pick they obtained for Leonel Coles during the 2009 Draft turned into the #1 overall pick this past draft. The #1 pick along with other draft picks and free agent acquisitions were part of a major roster overhaul general manager Corey Daubanton led, resulting in only four players remaining from last year’s squad, hoping to bring the Highlanders back into contenders for the future.
The Highlanders will still be led by Devonta Corrigan, coming off another 20+ ppg & 10+ rpg season. Also returning is fellow starter, forward Ellis Law, coming off 15.4 ppg in his first full season in Andorra, along with bench scorer, Nikos Atirides. The intrigue for this year will be what the new acquisitions, headlined by #1 pick Ira Redwine and major free agent signing Isaac Rice, bring.
“With the #1 pick, we felt it imperative for us to draft the player who we project to be the best in the future. While Ira Redwine might not be immediately be a star, and perhaps not even the top rookie this season, we believe in a few years he will be an All-Star, and one of the top scoring point guards in the league” Daubanton said about Redwine, also mentioning he will be the team’s starting point guard from day one.
Also acquired in the draft were forward Glen Rabon, center Deon Williams, and forward Chris Aranda in the first round from picks acquired from other various trades, along with center Edward Jefferson and point guard Jason Nolan in the second round.
If the draft wasn’t enough, the Highlanders pulled off even more moves in free agency. In a surprising move, three of last year’s starters were waived: point guard Ray Estrada, shooting guard Tristen Collins, along with multiple backups. However Daubanton said this was due to making room for all the new draft picks and to clear cap space in order to target a potential All-Star caliber player in free agency. After being spurned by a couple of high-profile free agents, the Highlanders agreed to sign Isaac Rice to a maximum contract. Rice has been hampered the first years of his career due to injury and inconsistent play, but scouts all around the league believed he is finally healthy this year and due for a breakout season, which made him one of the more highly coveted free agents. The other big free agent singing was guard Skye French, whose large contract was considered a shock by many, considering he only appeared in a total of nine games his first two seasons. “French is still only 19 years old and has great potential, but he is still extremely raw. I admit I overpaid for him, and perhaps overpaid for him by a lot, but our team is in good financial shape the next several years so I decided to take a big risk.” Daubanton said about French, who also added French will likely see time as a backup guard this year.
Ira Redwine: The #1 pick, Redwine only averaged 8.0 ppg and 4.5 apg during preseason, but he is not being asked to do much as a rookie. His development will be key to the future of the Highlanders franchise.
Nikos Atirides: Nicknamed the “Greek Gunner”, he has always been known to shoot and has never met a shot he doesn’t like, even if racking up missed shots after missed shots. This past offseason he has worked on his shot selection and being more efficient, which led to the Highlanders staff giving him the starting shooting guard spot. He still struggled with a 33.3 FG% in the preseason, but he managed to get to the free throw line a lot, and his 44-point outburst in the preseason finale will lead fans wondering if that kind of game will be commonplace this regular season, or was just a fluke.
Devonta Corrigan: The face of the Highlanders franchise dating back to their days in Utah, he has been among the league leaders in scoring and rebounding every year, and hopes to continue that trend this year.
Issac Rice: The Highlander’s big free agent acquisition, he is expected to be a big scorer in the Highlanders frontcourt if he stays healthy.
Ellis Law: In somewhat of a surprise, the Highlanders are having forward Ellis Law starting at center as part of a small starting lineup. About Law, Daubanton said “I, along with our coaching staff determined our only centers on our roster, Deon Williams and Edward Jefferson, being rookies, aren’t yet ready to be starters, and with the signing of Isaac Rice, we still wanted Ellis Law to get his minutes” With 16.5 ppg and a 58.2% FG in the preseason, Law seems to be having no problem at his new position.
Deon Williams, Glen Rabon, Chris Aranda and Skye French will be looking to get consistent playing time off the bench. It will be up to these young players to prove they deserve more playing time. Jalen Dampier, the other returning player from last year, as well as Marcel Toland and Jason Nolan might not see much playing time.
The Highlanders preseason started off brutally with the team starting 0-4, routinely getting blown out, causing Daubanton to claim the Highlanders might be the first 0-80 team in WBA history. However they won their last two games, leaving fans wondering if the Highlanders figured out their identity and will be a surprising good team, based on their last two preseason, or will be they be a frustratingly inconsistent team?
As for my prediction, I am going with the Highlander being inconsistent, but still decent, ultimately finishing with a .500 record at 40-40. Devonta Corrigan and Ellis Law will be solid, and Isaac Rice & Nikos Atirides may have breakout seasons, but the Highlanders will need a year of experience from Ira Redwine and their other rookies and young players that are making up their bench before they become a playoff contender again.