Idaho men's basketball to aim for the right track

Nov. 3—A new coaching staff and a dozen new players will attempt to rejuvenate the Idaho men's basketball program, which hasn't had a winning season in five years.

The Vandals hired Alex Pribble as their new headman on March 16.

The Fairfax, Calif., native took over for four-year coaching veteran Zac Claus, who compiled a 28-88 overall record during his time in Moscow.

The Vandals begin their season with the renewal of the Battle of the Palouse rivalry at 8 p.m. on Monday against Washington State at Beasley Coliseum.

Pribble is hoping to put Idaho back on the right track, considering he's had success everywhere he's been.

The 16-year coaching veteran spent the last four seasons as an assistant coach at Seattle University.

During his time with the Redhawks, they posted back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time since the 1960s.

The Vandals' skipper also has some Big Sky Conference experience, having been an assistant at Eastern Washington from 2013-15.

In his final season with the Eagles, they finished 26-9 overall and 14-4 in conference to share the regular-season crown with Montana. EWU went on to win the Big Sky tourney and earn the program's second NCAA tourney bid.

"We know the Big Sky's going to be an absolute gauntlet," Pribble said. "That's just the reality of it. There's going to be no day off. So for us, that's a challenge; it's an opportunity."

Pribble didn't inherit much of a roster once he landed in Moscow, losing a chunk of players to the transfer portal, including Big Sky newcomer of the year Isaac Jones.

Jones averaged 19.4 points per game and had the ninth-best field goal percentage in the country (62.9%) last season. The Spanaway, Wash., native transferred to WSU.

Here's what to expect in the latest chapter of Idaho men's basketball:

Who is back?

The Vandals are returning just three players from last year: redshirt junior Terren Frank, redshirt sophomore Jack Hatten and redshirt freshman Titus Yearout.

Frank, a 6-foot-8 forward, started six games last year before suffering a season-ending injury in an 84-81 win over Pacific.

The Vanderbilt transfer was an impact player in his limited minutes last season, recording double figures in half of the games he started.

Before he got injured, Frank was averaging 10 points and six rebounds per game. The forward's size and experience should get him some playing time.

Yearout, a Lapwai High School graduate, redshirted last year and didn't see any action. But he had a very decorated high school career, being Lapwai's all-time leading scorer while also being named Idaho's Gatorade Player of the Year during his senior season.

"When you're trying to build a new team, what you want is guys in your locker room who are about the right stuff and who are winners on and off the court," Pribble said. "That's what Titus is. He kind of sets the standard for us in terms of consistency. It's important to remember that he's just a redshirt freshman. But we want guys in the locker room who are going to show up every day, give their best effort and be coachable."

Yearout is one of eight guards on the Vandals roster. He's also one of the youngest guys on the team, being one of three freshmen.

Hatten, a 6-6 guard, played in seven games last season and averaged 2.3 points and 2.3 rebounds per game.

The Bakersfield, Calif., native is currently in a walking boot and will not play against Washington State. There is no timetable for his return.

Interchangeability is the best ability

One of the first things Pribble touched on during his introductory news conference on March 20 was the importance of interchangeability. And that's going to be the blueprint for the Vandals moving forward.

"Before we even brought these guys in, we talked about wanting versatility and interchangeability," Pribble said. "I think we did a good job of filling the roster with guys who can pass, dribble, shoot. There's going to be four or five 3-point shooters on the court at any time, so we can really spread the court out."

Pribble expects all 12 of Idaho's new faces to contribute right away, especially those with experience.

"I think depth is going to be an advantage for us," he said. "We have a lot of guys who have been competing hard up to this point. We have a few guys who are a bit more experienced, and that has paid dividends up to this point. But really, we're just excited to see, when the lights come on, who's ready to bring it. I think we have 12, 13, 14 guys who can come in and contribute right off the bat, and we're going to put the guys on the floor who hopefully can get the scoreboard going in our direction."

Finally back

This will be a statement season for the Idaho men in terms of building a new program and getting the fans invested.

It'll also be a huge year for Pribble, who is overseeing a Division I program for the first time in his career.

"For that Washington State game to be right around the corner is an exciting feeling," Pribble said. "And I think to take it a step further, our 12 new players on campus get to see what the football program is doing right now. Our guys get to see what the women's soccer team is doing right now. Our guys just get to see this tidal wave of energy and positivity within the Vandal athletic department and community right now. So it excites me even more to be a part of that and to keep that ball rolling."

Pixley may be contacted at (208) 848-2290, or on Twitter @TreebTalks.