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UMD signs two guards and a forward, hopes for healthy veterans

Minnesota Duluth men's basketball coach Gary Holquist got excited describing his latest recruiting class, but he also was realistic. "Make no mistake: My two best recruits for next year are a healthy John Vaudreuil and Jordan Schade," Holquist said.

Minnesota Duluth men's basketball coach Gary Holquist got excited describing his latest recruiting class, but he also was realistic.

"Make no mistake: My two best recruits for next year are a healthy John Vaudreuil and Jordan Schade," Holquist said.

Vaudreuil and Schade were slowed by injuries last season, but are proven commodities at the NCAA Division II level. UMD's latest signees, Wisconsin prep players Cashton Craig and T.J. Kellner, along with community college player Bob Bilitz, are not, but Holquist believes they will make a positive impact on the program. The players signed Wednesday, the first day of the spring signing period, and they join fall recruit Ryan Rasmussen of Waupun, Wis.

"All four of those guys will get an opportunity to play," Holquist said. "We expect Craig and Rasmussen, in particular, to come in and give us quality minutes right away. We needed to sign two guys who were very skilled with the basketball; guys who could dribble, pass and shoot, and those two can. We were very fortunate to get them."

UMD's biggest need is finding a shooter to replace Jordan Nuness, the Bulldogs' career leader in 3-pointers.

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Craig, a 6-foot-1, 185-pound guard, made a verbal commitment to UMD in late January. He averaged 17 points and five assists for Madison La Follette, leading the team to a 16-7 record. He was a first-team all-area performer.

Kellner, a 6-4, 185-pound guard, averaged 18 points and five rebounds per game in helping Sheboygan North go 18-4 and win the Fox River Classic Conference. He shot45 percent from 3-point range last season.

Adding Craig and Kellner continues UMD's strong recruiting ties in the Badger State.

"I chose UMD because I really liked the coaching staff and team, and also the city of Duluth. It's very beautiful," Kellner said. "I don't think Coach Holquist has made a decision yet, but redshirting is a possibility. That would give me another year to get stronger."

Bilitz, a 6-9 forward, is a former standout at West Lutheran High School in Plymouth, Minn. After graduating in 2005, he attended Division I South Dakota State but had academic problems and transferred to Minneapolis Community and Technical College. He averaged 10 points and seven rebounds per game for the perennial power Mavericks, who went22-8 last season.

Despite his height, Bilitz likes the perimeter and has a good midrange jump shot. Holquist said he could see playing Bilitz alongside 6-7 forward Brian Sykora and Vaudreuil, a 6-8 center who Holquist said is an All-American candidate. Holquist said Bilitz's finesse complements the other players' ruggedness.

"The coach at MCTC [Jay Pivec] knows Coach Holquist well, and I think they have similar styles," Bilitz said. "That should help me blend in well. Everything I've heard about UMD is that it's a good place to be."

Even without Vaudreuil, who missed the 2007-08 season with a knee injury, UMD came a buzzer away from beating eventual national champion Winona State on the Warriors' home court last season. Then Schade, the team's point guard, went down with a stress fracture in his foot and the team stumbled to a 9-19 record.

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"We'd like to bring in another junior college impact player, but there's no question, with the guys we've got coming back and the newcomers, I like the way this team looks already," Holquist said.

JON NOWACKI covers college sports for the News Tribune. He can be reached weeknights at (218) 723-5305 or by e-mail at jnowacki@duluthnews.com .

Related Topics: BASKETBALL
Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at jnowacki@duluthnews.com or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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