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Two Leopards bring Aussie feel to Easton

08/03/2013, 7:02am EDT
By Josh Verlin

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

The town of Easton, Pa. is nearly 10,000 miles from Sydney, Australia.

Listen closely during a Lafayette basketball game, however, and it won’t be surprising to hear a cheer of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie” break out at Kirby Sports Center. That’s because a pair of Sydney natives, Dan Trist and Nathaniel Musters, are both going to be key contributors in the Leopards, frontcourt this season.

Trist had his breakout season last year as a sophomore, finishing third on the team with a 12.4 ppg scoring average and starting all 29 games he appeared in. Musters, who’s one year younger, played in 33 games and started two but only averaged 5.7 mpg, scoring a total of 14 points on the season with 27 rebounds in his first season in America.

Though it’s quite a long way from home, it’s the path that both wanted to take.

“I started playing serious basketball when I was probably, I’d say 13,” Trist said. “I was sitting there thinking I could do this forever so maybe I should try and make something of it, so I talked to people and this is the path to take, so I made my mind up when I was probably 15 years old that this was what I wanted to do.”

Lafayette coach Fran O’Hanlon had good relations with a number of coaches Down Under thanks to both playing there as well as hosting some Australian visitors up at Lafayette a number of years ago. Junior national team coach Damian Cotter coached both Trist and Musters down in Australia, and considering both wanted to play college basketball nearly half a world away, the school where they ended up had to be a good fit.

Both Trist and Musters committed to the school prior to their official visits.

“They want to trust where they send someone,” O’Hanlon said about his the coaches down in Australia. “They’re not worried about levels, they’re worried about ‘this person we can trust, this person is going to develop the guy, he’s not going to get lost in the shuffle’ and I think they appreciated that, and that’s how we got Dan and how we got Nate.”

There’s no reason that Trist won’t start at one forward position for the Leopards after his big year in 2012-13, but the question remains as to who will be next to him. Lafayette’s other starter last season was Levi Giese, who averaged 6.9 ppg and 4.1 rpg in his senior season.

In practice this past Sunday, Musters and Trist were both playing with what would ostensibly be the first unit, alongside junior wing Seth Hinrichs, junior shooting guard Bryce Scott and sophomore Zach Rufer at the point. Hinrichs and Trist are the only two guaranteed starters; O’Hanlon has six weeks to figure out what his starting lineup will look like on Nov. 8 against Villanova.

“Right now I’m just playing combinations and seeing what the best combination is, but I’m hoping at times that we can go big, with a lineup like Dan and Nathaniel out there at the same time,” the 19th-year coach said. “I don’t know if it’ll be a steady diet of it, but I do think that they can play together at times, and that’s what I’m going to try to do in practice.”

At 6-foot-9 and 246 pounds, Trist is the second-biggest body on the team and is capable of playing either power forward or center. The only teammate bigger is Musters, at 6-10 and 255 pounds, and the sophomore certainly believes the two would work as a starting frontcourt.

“I’m looking to start this year, which is what I’ve been working towards over the summer,” he said. “I’m trying to push Dan down to the ‘4’ and start in the ‘5’ spot in Levi’s absence, but it all remains to be seen. I’m just working hard every day and working towards my goals.

“I feel more comfortable with the offense now, which is good, all the little nuances down with our style of play and everything like that, so I feel a lot more comfortable coming into this year.”

Trist certainly took a huge step from his freshman year (5.7 ppg, 2.1 rpg) to his sophomore season (12.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg), though O’Hanlon did note that he’d need to improve on his rebounding as a junior. Musters looked much more mobile in practice with a better body, though he has competition to start alongside his fellow countryman.

Junior forward Alan Flannigan is the only other returning forward besides Trist to average more than 10 minutes per game, and if O’Hanlon is going to play a smaller lineup than the 6-6 Flannigan makes sense to fill that role. A pair of sophomores, Billy Murphy and Ben Freeland, are also both 6-9. Then there’s 6-7 freshman Michael Hoffman, who’s skinny but athletic and energetic.

Last year, 10 different players started at least one game for the Leopards, so even if Musters and Trist aren’t both in the starting lineup in November there’s still a chance for them to hear their names over the PA system before the season is over. And there’s always next year.

“Having our names called, both being from Sydney, Australia in front of a packed house here would be amazing,” Musters said. “I would love that experience, it would be absolutely awesome.”

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