Tommies men’s basketball begins life after Andrew Rohde with tough game at Cal

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There were times last season, when the St. Thomas men’s basketball team was rolling to a 19-win season and a fourth-place finish in the Summit League, that it was fair to ask, Where would this team be without Andrew Rohde?

Beginning Monday night, when they travel to the Bay Area to play the University of California Golden Bears, this year’s version of the Tommies will start to provide the answer.

Coach Johnny Tauer’s team returns 11 players, but the loss of the do-everything Rohde, who transferred to Virginia after a brilliant freshman season in St. Paul, ensures that the Tommies, while still relying on their share-the-ball, team-basketball approach, will have a new look.

“Part of our job as coaches is to use the offseason to develop guys,” Tauer said. “You figure out their unique skill sets, then you put them in the right spot. One of our biggest challenges is, how do we get this group to grow into their roles?”

In particular, the Tommies will be counting on sophomores Kendall Blue, a 6-foot-6 guard, and Ahjany Lee, 6-9 forward/center,  to take a step forward.

“They got a lot of experience last year,” Tauer said. “Some of it was tough lessons — all of it was valuable. Ahjany, I think, has probably improved in every facet of the game. He’s stronger, he’s shooting it better. Last year he had a lot of ‘freshman’ fouls. This year I think he’s going to be one of the premier defenders around.

“Kendall has improved his shot, which I think is important. Probably more than anything, the mental tenacity, understanding what it takes every single possession on a college court. For most of these guys, you could take a possession off in high school and not necessarily get burned for it. So for him, we’re looking at his defensive mindset and toughness.”

Tauer said he has not yet settled on a starting five, adding that the group that takes the floor on Monday won’t necessarily be the Tommies’ starters moving forward. A pair of 6-6 graduate-student forwards, Parker Bjorklund and Brooks Allen, are locks. Blue and Lee also are good bets, leaving one guard position uncertain.

Technically, the Tommies will be starting a new point guard due to the loss of Riley Miller to graduation, but the guard positions are interchangeable in Tauer’s system. Holdovers Ben Nau, Ryan Dufault, Dom Martinelli and Drake Dobbs, Division III transfer Raheem Anthony and freshman Hayden Tibbits are all in the mix.

“When you look at what Andrew Rohde brought last year, and Riley Miller, we’ve been very transparent that we’re not going to go and replace them,” Tauer said. “But I think there are
things we can do to be really good in the backcourt.

“Raheem Anthony isn’t a classic point guard, but he and Kendall Blue are versatile playmakers. We’ve always felt that having multiple ball-handlers on the court at all times is the key. Passing and catching have been two hallmarks of our program. That’s shown up in our low turnover numbers over the years.”

Tauer said eventually he will settle into a nine- or 10-man rotation. One other player who figures to be part of that is redshirt freshman forward Carter Bjerke, who at 6-9, 250 pounds, is best know for his three-point shooting ability. Tauer said Bjerke used his redshirt season to improve his strength and conditioning.

“Carter is a prolific three-point shooter, but he’s also a really smart, crafty basketball player,” Tauer said. “His passing, I think, is underrated, and he’s developing a low-post game that, I think over the next four years, he is going to be a fun guy to play offense with because of all different things he can do.”


The Tommies will play another high-profile nonconference opponent on Dec. 14 when they travel to Milwaukee to face Marquette. Tauer said the goal is to continue to schedule teams from nationally known private Catholic schools moving forward.

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