By Darren Sabedra of the San Jose Mercury News
It wasn't an easy off-season for the San Jose State men's basketball team.
Coach Steve Barnes left in April, returning to Iowa State as an assistant after three seasons at SJSU.
But nothing compares to what happened in May, when James Jenkins, a probable starter, died in an apparent hiking accident in the June Lake-Mammoth Lakes area.
The 6-foot-7 forward remains in the team's thoughts.
``It's hard coming back without him because he always had jokes,'' Brandon Hawkins, a senior point guard, said last week. ``We have a lot of new guys who didn't know him. But we stress and try to explain what type of person James was, how he was such a good person.''
Coach Phil Johnson, who replaced Barnes, has kept Jenkins' memory alive. The team will wear the player's No. 55 on its uniforms.
``Coach explained that we shouldn't think it's just a piece sewn on the jersey,'' Hawkins said. ``It has meaning -- and acknowledge that meaning and don't just think I'm wearing it because it's on my uniform.''
Johnson is in his second stint with the Spartans. He coached SJSU to a 12-16 record in 1998-99, then bolted to the Chicago Bulls as an assistant in the post-Michael Jordan era. Johnson spent 2 1/2 seasons with the Bulls, resigning in December in support of his friend Tim Floyd, who stepped down as coach.
Johnson said he inherited a team last spring with six scholarship players. But he landed a surprise recruit in June when Antonio Lawrence, one of the nation's top 50 prospects and the Fresno Bee's high school player of the year, committed to the Spartans.
Talk of Lawrence's saving SJSU's program, however, might be premature. The 6-foot-4 forward has strong work habits, Johnson said, but needs to improve his passing and team defense. Lawrence averaged 24.6 points with San Joaquin Memorial High last season.
``His performances aren't going to be based on necessarily scoring points or doing anything real glamorous,'' Johnson said. ``A lot of kids feel like if they have a big dunk or a big night offensively, they played well. That is not necessarily true.
``I always felt like, `How did you impact winning?' I don't think he should ever get down because he works so hard and cares deeply about winning. I really believe he is going to be a good player some day, because he does care and is not lazy.''
Johnson will look to Hawkins for leadership -- and scoring. Hawkins averaged 16 points, 4.3 assists and 3.8 rebounds last season, when the team went 10-22.
Senior guard Phil Calvert, the team's third-leading scorer last season at 9.8 points per game, will sit out as a redshirt so he can get back on pace to graduate. He continues to work out with the team.
The Spartans don't have much height, but that isn't Johnson's biggest concern.
``I'm not worried about our lack of size as much as I'm worried about our guard play and perimeter play -- in passing and dribbling and shooting,'' Johnson said. ``These guys don't realize how hard you have to play. We're going to get it out of them one way or another. It might be like going to the dentist -- but it's going to happen.''
Hawkins is the only returning player who averaged double figures in scoring last season. He said he thinks the Spartans can do much better than their preseason forecast. They were picked to finish eighth by the media in the 10-team Western Athletic Conference.
``I'd love to win the WAC,'' Hawkins said. ``Everybody needs to work hard and needs to be on the same page. But we could be a very good team, a very good team. It's all up to us.''
Contact Darren Sabedra at firstname.lastname@example.org or (408) 920-5815.
Men's Basketball Defeats GearHog All-Stars
San Jose, Ca---—Eric Walton led the Spartan men's basketball team with 22 points to lead the San Jose State men's basketball team to an 89-81 victory over the GearHog All-Stars at Spartan Gym Saturday afternoon.
Oudie Baker had a double-double with 20 points and 16 rebounds. Keith Leverage came off the bench for a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Antonio Lawrence added 10 points off the bench.
The Spartans shot 43.8 percent from the field and 33 percent from the three-point line. Brandon Hawkins had nine points and fie assists. Lawrence added a team-high four steals in the game.
Jarvis Turner led GearHog with 18 points, while former Fresno State player Demetrius Porter had 17 points. Darrell Teat had 16 points, while Richard Stirgus had 13 points and 11 rebounds.
San Jose State opens the regular season next Saturday at Washington State. Tip-off is set for 11 a.m. and can be heard on KSJS-FM, 90.5. The Spartans open the home portion of its schedule on Tuesday, November 26th against Menlo College. Tip time is set 7 p.m., in The Event Center.
San Jose State 89 GearHog All-Stars 81
Porter 7-21 0-0 17, Barnett 1-7 0-0 3, A. Lopez 0-3 0-0 0, Turner 8-150-0 18, Hooker 3-7 0-0 7, Young 1-2 0-0 2, C. Lopez 1-3 1-1 3, Teat 4-6 8-10 16, Stirgus 6-10 1-2 13, Haviland 1-2 0-0 2. Totals – 32-76 10-13 81.
San Jose State (89)
Lilly 2-5 0-0 6, Walton 9-14 4-6 22, Baker 7-22 6-9 20, West 4-9 1-2 9, Hawkins 2-6 5-6 9, Lawrence 4-7 1-4 10, Alvarez 0, Okunrinboye 0-1 0-0 0, Sonnenberg 0-1 2-3 2, Everage 4-8 3-5 11. Totals – 32-73 22-35 89.
SJSU 41, GearHog 39. Three-point goals – GH 7-31 (Porter 3-12, Barnett 1-6, Turner 2-4, Hooker 1-4, Young 0-1, Teat 0-1, Stirgus 0-3); SJSU 3-9 (Lilly 2-5, Walton 0-1, Hawkins 0-1, Lawrence 1-2). Rebounds – GH 38 (Stirgus 11); SJSU 53 (Baker 16) Fouled Out – Hooker. Assists – GH 16 (Porter, A. Lopez, Turner 3); SJSU 16 (Hawkins 5). Total Fouls – GH 29, SJSU 14.
Att. – 534.