By William Bowman
The Daily Item
MINNEAPOLIS -- There will be times this season -- he can see them coming -- when Dave Paulsen will have to take a walk to the end of the court and relax for a moment.
He didn't have to do that very much in his first three seasons at Bucknell, mainly because of one player: point guard Darryl Shazier. But now Shazier is gone, playing in Ireland after starting nearly 100 games for the Bison. With him went experience, his ability to score and create, his coolness under pressure, and, maybe most important, his leadership.
What that means is that the Bison, who open the season tonight at Minnesota, have a big hole at point guard and a gigantic crater in leadership. Filling them both as quickly as possible is imperative if they want to repeat last year's 25-win season that ended with a berth in the NCAA tournament.
The leadership seems to be in the capable of hands of captains Bryan Cohen, Bryson Johnson and Mike Muscala, along with the return of three-year starter Joe Willman. The point guard issue could be a little tougher to solve, but Paulsen is confident the Bison have good options.
"You don't replace Darryl overnight," said Paulsen, who started Shazier in 94 of Bucknell's 95 games the last three seasons. "Last year when Stephen Tyree went down, we told our guys we have to replace Stephen collectively. We have to replace Darryl collectively."
Sophomore Cameron Ayers, an All-Rookie pick as a sophomore will make his first career start tonight with classmate Ryan Hill and freshman Steven Kaspar also getting some run at the point.
Ayers, the son of Randy Ayers, the current New Orleans Hornets coach and former Ohio State mentor, played in all 33 games last season and was named to the All-Tournament team after BU swept through the Patriot League Tournament.
Ayers averaged 7.5 points a game last year and, while not a natural point guard, he got some great instruction when he attended Hornet star Chris Paul's Elite camp this summer. He got to play alongside the likes of Harrison Barnes of No. 1 North Carolina, Wisconsin All-American Jordan Taylor, and Syracuse's Brandon Triche.
Hill and Kaspar are both true points. Hill, out of Steelton-Highspire, played in 32 games a year ago. He scored 26 points and handed out 20 assists. Kaspar, a true freshman from Tennessee where he was a finalist for the state's Mr. Basketball award, averaged 16 points and four assists leading Evangelical Christian to the state title last winter.
"The burden just can't be all on Cameron or Ryan or Steven; collectively we have to do things to help them out," Paulsen said. "They are all really growing and maturing."
Ayers, more a swing, has had to adjust to the move and Paulsen said he has taken well to the change so far.
"He's making the transition very well and has played at a very high level in both of our scrimmages," said Paulsen. "Ryan Hill has made good strides, and Steven is going to be a very, very good player. But there are going to be a few more turnovers."
That won't be an easy pill to swallow. Shazier was as good as any point guard in the nation a year ago in assist-to-turnover margin, dishing out 185 assists against just 50 turnovers, second best in the nation, while the Bison were 26th out of 336 Division I teams in turnovers. Ayers dished out 48 assists but had 38 turnovers while to go along with his 20 assists, Hill had 21 turnovers
"Darryl played the point guard position about as well as you can play it last year," said Paulsen. "The turnovers, everyone is going to have live with, including me, which is not going to be easy. Hopefully there's not a lot more turnovers. It's a growing process."