BOISE, Idaho--The Boise State men's basketball team opens its 2015-16 season with an exhibition game tonight against Northwest University of Washington. In many ways, it will be like seeing the new and the old.
Many pieces of last year's championship puzzle will be back. There's the versatile and ultra-talented James Webb III at forward, the sharpshooting of Nick Duncan, and the all-around play of guard Mikey Thompson. They will all be back, along with Chandler Hutchison, Montigo Alford and David Wacker. With 1,172 points last season collectively, that group was responsible for nearly half of Boise State's 2,390 points last season.
That is where the new comes in. Gone are Associated Press Honorable Mention All-America and Mountain West Player of the Year Derrick Marks, who left Boise State as the school's #3 all-time scorer, as well as Igor Hadziomerovic, Rob Heyer, Kevin Allen, Joe Hanstad, Jake Ness, Chris Nealey and Dezmyn Trent.
Notwithstanding the tremendous level of talent returning, a team that usually loses eight players from a season ago is in a world of hurt. However, the Mountain West Conference coaches picked the Broncos to finish second this season, and the Boise State players and coaches have aspirations of doing better than that.
It helps when a bit of the new is part of the old. Star guard Anthony Drmic, who had to have his left ankle operated on after just seven games last year and missed the rest of the season, is back for Coach Leon Rice. Rice and the Bronco faithful are hoping Drmic has recovered enough to return to the form he displayed in his first three seasons, when he averaged 15.3 points a game. Despite only playing in seven games last season, Drmic is already #7 in school history in career scoring, having passed former Bronco great Ron Austin (1968-1971) with his 105 points last year.
(BroncoCountry video by Rod Couch)
While he was thrilled to see his teammates capture the Mountain West title, watching last year from the sidelines had to be tough on a fiery, all-out competitor like Drmic. Inspired by the play of his teammates last year, Drmic is eager to again hit the court. "We want to go back to where we last year, win the championship," he said. We want to go into the NCAA Tournament and make a run."
Rice landed a big get when graduate student Lonnie Jackson entered the picture. Jackson, who started 55 games for Boston College before an injury also ended his senior year, brings proven experience in arguably the nation's top collegiate basketball conference (the Atlantic Coast Conference) as well as leadership and basketball intelligence to the Bronco team. Jackson finished his Eagle career as one of only 10 players in school history to hit 175 three-pointers. "He's a flat-out shooter; he's another Drmic," Webb III said of Jackson.
Boise State also landed one of the nation's top 100 recruits in Paris Austin. Austin, a 5-11, 180-pound guard from highly-regarded Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland, helped his school to a 28-4 record last season. The Dragons, ranked #4 in the nation, won the California Open Division State Championship and their fourth straight CIF Section Division championship. Austin averaged 19.5 points, 7.1 assists, 6.1 rebounds and 2.8 steals per game, including a game-high 21 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in the state championship game. Paris set single-game school records of 43 points and 12 three-pointers January 21 of this year. Austin was named All-California by Cal-Hi Sports and played in the 2015 Ballislife All-American Game following his senior season.
Rice is still trying to find the right big man to fit into his mix since Ryan Watkins graduated. Watkins (2010-14), who is now playing basketball overseas, ranks second in career rebounds with 814. Watkins played the brand of defense and exhibited the ability to score around the basket that Rice desires in a post man in the system that Rice brought with him from Gonzaga in Spokane, Washington. Rice, who was the top recruiter and assistant coach under Mark Few at Gonzaga for 11 years, helped the Bulldogs to berths in the NCAA Tournament in each of those 11 seasons.
But Rice is still searching for the right big man (ala Ronny Turiaf, Robert Sacre, Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris, who helped build the Gonzaga program) that Rice can utilize to reproduce the success he enjoyed with the Bulldogs. Last year, the Bronco coaches were forced to move Duncan out of position into the post, and Nick learned a lot from that experience.
So Rice and his coaches brought in Zach Haney, who redshirted last season, and even reached out to Germany for an answer, landing 6-foot-10, 250-pound Robin Jorch from the International Basketball Academy in Berlin. Rice is hoping that one of the big men on the roster--Haney, Jorch or Wacker, or perhaps a combination of the three, can make his formula work.
Northwest University is 1-2 this season, having split with Vancouver Island University (winning 81-62 before falling 93-83) and losing to Thompson Rivers University 74-72 last Saturday. Eight of the 14 players on head Coach John Van Dyke's roster are underclassmen. Northwestern is in the same conference, the Cascade Collegiate, as the College of Idaho in Caldwell.
Dak Shagren, a 6-3, 180--pound junior guard, is the top returning player for the Eagles. Shagren averaged 14.6 points a game and averaged 79.1% of his free-throw attemps last season for Northwest.
The Boise State women's basketball team opens its season with an exhibition against Southern Oregon at 5:30 in Taco Bell Arena.
Tonight's exhibition between the Broncos and Northwest begins at 8 in Taco Bell Arena. And Rice is hoping he has just the right mix of new and old.