October 26, 2011
For a coach whose roster is as inexperienced as any team in the nation, Pacific's Bob Thomason remains remarkably upbeat.
He's not worried that his top seven scorers from last season departed. He views it as a challenge that his current roster features 10 newcomers. He even chuckles when reminded that his only two returners who received playing time last season averaged five or less minutes per game and combined for a mere 39 points, less than two percent of Pacific's total scoring.
"It's fun. It's refreshing," Thomason said without a hint of sarcasm. "I have to believe there's nobody in the country that has fewer points back than us, but we have some good players. I'd rather have good players who don't have experience than experienced players who aren't any good. I believe this will develop into a really good team. I just don't know how long it will take to happen."
If the rebuilding job Thomason faces this year isn't the most difficult in the nation, it's certainly on par with some of the more publicized major conference teams whose rosters are woefully short on experience.
The highest-profile rebuilding effort of the season will take place at St. John's, which returns just one scholarship player, reserve guard Malik Stith, due to the graduation of nine seniors and the unexpected transfer of wing Dwayne Polee. Boston College returns only two scholarship players from last season, but at least guards Danny Rubin and Gabe Moton were both part of the rotation a year ago and logged about 15 minutes per game apiece.
Whereas St. John's reloaded with a top-five recruiting class and Boston College raided Southern California to find some well-regarded prospects, it's more difficult for Thomason to attract freshmen capable of making an immediate impact. Instead he scoured California and other Western states for junior college talent, eventually adding nine juco transfers on scholarship and a tenth as a walk-on.
"I think it's a good group, but we'll be teaching all year," Thomason said. "My goal is just to have them get better in the preseason, get better from the first part of league to the second part of league and get the team to the point where they believe that if they play three good games, they can win the Big West tournament. That's how we're approaching our season."
The reason Pacific lacks its usual crop of returning talent is because the Tigers have experienced a rash of transfers recently. Eight players have left the program with eligibility remaining since the end of the 2008-09 season including four last spring.
Maybe the most damaging and befuddling transfer from last season was guard Allen Huddleston, a sophomore who averaged the second most points on the team. The 6-foot-2 guard left to be part of a less structured, more wide-open offense at Fresno State even though at Pacific his production increased from 5.5 points per game as a freshman to 11.1 as a sophomore.
"Allen's a great kid," Thomason said. "He got caught up with a couple other guys leaving. There was talk of him coming back, but by then I'd already offered scholarships to guys. Allen needed to improve his overall guard play game. If you're willing to do those things, it will work well. If you're not willing to do those things, sometimes it's better you move on."
It's difficult for Thomason to predict his starting lineup or his rotation because he's still giving all 16 players on his roster equal playing time in practice in order to familiarize himself with their strengths and weaknesses. The one position Thomason appears especially confident about is point guard, where it's a three-way battle for playing time between newcomers Rodrigo De Souza and Lorenzo McCloud and Creighton transfer Andrew Bock, a former top 100 recruit.
Thomason also is excited about Western Wyoming Community College transfer Trevin Harris, a 6-foot-6 sophomore who is already 22 years old because he went on a two-year Mormon mission after high school. Harris chose Pacific this spring despite heavy interest from Utah.
Whereas in previous years Thomason would be using the next few weeks before Pacific's season opener to fine-tune the intricacies of his structured offense, this year that time will be spent on more basic concepts. Thomason is still trying to get his team to understand spacing and passing angles, to improve its help defense and to pursue the ball more fiercely on the defensive glass, all skills that could be reinforced faster were he working primarily with eight or nine guys rather than all 16.
Pacific will no doubt struggle in non-conference play and may still be behind its Big West peers by the start of the league season, but Thomason insists the Tigers have the talent to be a threat to league favorites Long Beach State and UC Santa Barbara by March. And even if that proves to be wishful thinking, Pacific will potentially return every key player for the 2012-13 season while UCSB struggles to replace stars Orlando Johnson and James Nunnally and Long Beach State attempts to fill the void left by point guard Casper Ware and wing Larry Anderson.
"I think Santa Barbara and Long Beach have a lot of seniors," Thomason said. "I'm not saying they don't have good underclassmen too, but maybe they won't be quite as good in the future and we can step up there. That's what I'm hoping we can do. But we think we'll be pretty good by the end of this year too. We'd like to shock the world this year and then take over the conference the next two years as well."