Can Freshman Be The Answer At Tulane?

What will it take for Tulane basketball to become competitive in Conference USA and earn a tournament bid?

Is experience overrated?

Three Syracuse freshmen scored 58% of the Orangemen's points in the NCAA championship game. The Orangemen's rookies, Carmelo Anthony, Gerry McNamara and Billy Edelin, proved that freshmen can win it all. They were the main reasons Syracuse defeated Kansas 81-78 in the NCAA Tournament title game.

This prompts observers to look at other teams who must depend on first year players as they build for next season. How about Tulane?

The Green Wave will certainly rely on freshmen for help next year. Will Shawn Finney's recruits be good enough to transform the Wave into a challenger in Conference USA?

Finney is pleased with his recruiting class. But no one is forecasting a Syracuse-like miracle for the Tulane incoming freshmen. How quickly they progress, however, will determine the degree of the Wave's success.

Tulane lost some dependable point producers in Watari Marsh, Brandon Spann and Brandon Brown.

"We lost a lot with our seniors," Finney said. "We had a guy who could score off the dribble in Waitari Marsh, an inside presence in Brandon Brown, as well as three other key players.

"We're looking for someone to fill those voids, but especially someone to step up and score and an inside presence. We will still need a nice 6-7 to 6-8 athletic player, someone like a Linton Johnson; and we're still going to miss that next season."

Finney must replace five departed players. And somehow he must catch up to perennial C-USA powers Marquette, Memphis, Louisville and Cincinnati. Can Tulane's roster, composed of three seniors, two juniors, two sophomores and five freshmen possibly measure up to such formidable programs? How about UAB, South Florida and USM?

The Wave coach likes Kinzer, a 5-11 point guard who played well as a backup last season.

"Marcus Kinzer really brings a good leadership role to us," Finney said. "He's quick, he passes the ball and he is excellent at getting us into our offensive sets."

Tulane's other returning players – Ivan Pjevicic (6-11), Wayne Tinsley (6-5), Ben Benfield (6-5), George Brown (6-10), Quincy Davis (6-9) and Vy Tatarunis (6-7) – are expected to make contributions as well.

This is how Finney sees it:

"Ivan came on strong this year. He changed the dimension of our team with the way he shot the basketball. If he continues to do that, he is going to have an excellent senior season.

"Wayne Tinsley has been a backbone the last three seasons; he will be a four-year starter, we look for him to provide leadership, athleticism and the defensive ability to really shut people down. We're leaning on him to be our leader.

"Wayne is the key and Ivan will probably step up early on with the way he shoots the basketball. There are opportunities for the freshmen to start because we lose so many guys, but you always have an advantage when you have been in practice for a couple of years, but a couple of positions will really be up for grabs."

"Ben Benfield had an up-and-down sophomore year, probably not the year he wanted or the year I wanted out of him. Ben needs to have a good summer, continuing to work on his jump shot and add about 10 or 15 pounds. With his shooting ability he is going to find ways to get on the court as a junior.

"I saw George Brown improving coming into this season. Unfortunately after he had some medical issues, it took him time to recover. This summer will give him time to regroup. He is a big presence in the middle; he has a good touch and he can rebound the basketball. He just needs to continue to develop like he did last year.

"Quincy Davis is long, athletic; he rebounds and blocks shots. It took him a while to adjust to the college game, but that is what you hope your freshmen will do when the end of the season comes - they can start contributing and giving you a lift off the bench. He needs to add some weight and continue to develop physically, but he has really come a long way.

"Vy Tatarunas has a chance to be a factor next season. Physically he was ready to play this season, but it was more of an adjustment mentally this year from high school to college. He can shoot the ball, he can rebound and as he learns more over the next six months, I think he will be a factor for us."

With Kinzer at the point, Tinsley at small forward, Pjevicic at power forward and Brown and Davis vying for the starting center position, the No. 2 guard spot presents the best opportunity for a freshman.

Camper may be the freshman best suited to crack the starting lineup at shooting guard. He has good size and can create opportunities off the dribble. Chris Moore, a No. 2 guard and Dan Fitzgerald, a small forward, can shoot the three point shot, assets Finney likes in his players coming off the bench.

"I am excited about our freshman class," Finney said. "They bring a lot to the table. When you look at guard abilities, we have a young man in Vincent Camper who can take it off the dribble. He is a steady player. We have guys who can shoot the basketball and we have size; I think we filled a lot of our needs. As I said earlier, we are still missing that long athlete that in the next class we have to fill.

"With young returners and five freshmen coming in, you know it is going to be a feeling-out process through individual workouts and practice to see who is stepping up and who is going to take time to develop."

Finney does not see pressure for the five freshmen recruits; he sees it as opportunity.

"I see it as opportunity for young men," he said. "We started Wayne as a freshman and I think that has made him a better basketball player. They learn more on the court than they do off of it."

"Vincent Camper can play one and two. He is a combination guard that can really score off the dribble. He is athletic and he passes the ball extremely well, whereas I see Chris Moore as being a straight shooter; he can score off the dribble, but he is more of a pure two-guard type."

Point guard Troy Aaron and power forward Cory Castine are not expected to provide major point production this season, but they have important roles. Aaron may have to run the team when Kinzer needs a breather. Castine must become the banger inside to help replace Brown's rebounding and defense.

What must Tulane do to become a NCAA tournament team?

"Win more games," Finney said. "I think we are getting the type of player we need. We are getting guys who can represent the school as well as play basketball. These guys can develop into some of the better players in this league. We have to get better every year and every day.

"We need to attract another post player, a long athlete and the best wing player we can find."

The youth of the squad is expected to limit the toughness of the out of conference games scheduled for this coming season.

"We have played three pretty tough schedules," Finney said. "This year we will have a solid schedule. We'll play LSU, Rice, UNO and we're still looking at a couple of other games, but we will probably be scaled back a bit because we are so young."

What can Tulane fans look for next season?

"I like the way our guys have been working together already this spring," he says. "They have taken on a group leadership role. I think we will have a great team concept with everyone relying on each other. We will continue to play hard and we are moving towards a team of guys who really love to play to play the game and really want to be part of the program. That is what you always want."

What will it take for Tulane to become competitive in Conference USA and earn a tournament bid? Perhaps a few freshmen playing with the poise of upper classmen as the Syracuse freshmen did.

"If a dog's gonna bite you," former Texas football coach Darrell Royal liked to say, "he'll bite you as a pup.

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