DES MOINES, Iowa -- Butler, Gonzaga and Davidson are small schools that have succeeded on college basketball's biggest stage.
First-year coach Ray Giacoletti wants to put Drake in that same category.
Giacoletti, who spent the last six years as a Gonzaga assistant, will try to take the first steps in that direction with a team that has a vastly different look from the group that went 15-17 last season under Mark Phelps, who was fired after five years of mediocre results.
Along with a new staff, the Bulldogs have three transfers, two freshmen and two players back in action after missing last season. Of the six returnees, only two were starters: 6-foot-11 Seth VanDeest, who has battled shoulder and knee injuries throughout his career, and point guard Richard Carter.
Giacoletti believes Drake has the academics and character to match the schools he wants to emulate. His challenge will be achieving the same sort of success on the court.
"Maybe 10 years ago people didn't believe you could do both," he said Tuesday during the team's media day. "You can do both. There's enough people out there that have proved it. That's something Drake needs to be, in the same sentence with Butler, Davidson and Gonzaga. That would be our hope and vision."
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Giacoletti, who also has been the head coach at Utah, was responding to questioner who asked where he saw his program in five years.
"I'm glad you used five years from now, because it doesn't happen overnight," he said. "Gonzaga's been playing basketball for over 100 years. It's the last 15 years that are prevalent. Before that, one thing rings out: John Stockton. That's the only thing you can think of for that basketball program before 15 years ago."
VanDeest, a fifth-year senior, gives Giacoletti a good starting point -- if he's healthy. Right now he's limited to 45 minutes of practice each day because of a sore knee that's likely to nag him all season.
He averaged 9.5 points and 4.8 rebounds last season after sitting out the 2011-12 season.
"What he's gone through, he's done an amazing job to continue to be focused," Giacoletti said. "His knee is structurally sound, but it's bone on bone. If you were the basketball gods, you would wish you could bestow on him that he could go injury free and pain free. But it's just not in the cards."
VanDeest said the only way to cope is ignore the pain.
"It's all mental," he said. "You've got to be able to block it out and do everything you can to the best of your ability."
Carter, a 5-11 senior, gives the Bulldogs a proven ballhandler who also has shown on occasion that he can score. He put up 20 points against Creighton last season and averaged 9.2 points while finishing ninth in the Missouri Valley Conference in assists.
Also in the mix at guard are Gary Ricks Jr., who played in 31 games last season; Karl Madison, back after missing last season because of a knee injury, and 5-9 Jordan Daniels, who is eligible now after transferring from Boston College, where he averaged 6.4 points and 2.6 assists as a freshman.
"I feel like I can be an extra leader on the floor," Daniels said. "I feel like I can bring playmaking and just be a piece to bring the team together."
Aaron Hawley, an athletic 6-8 forward, is back after a one-year hiatus imposed by Phelps, who lifted his scholarship. Hawley stayed in school, earned two business-related degrees and now is working on a third.
Giacoletti feels he got a steal with the late addition of 6-11, 240-pound Jacob Jensen of Denmark. The new coach thinks that within a year, Jensen could become one of Valley's top post players.
"He's got good hands, a good feel," Giacoletti said. "Big guys who have a work ethic and good hands have a chance. He's got both of those. A gift from the heavens to get him that late."