By Joshua Samuel
With only four players returning from last year’s squad that made the conference playoffs for the second consecutive year, CSUDH men’s basketball head coach Steve Becker said the team’s five non-conference games to start the season are critical to how the new season will unfold.
“We have a lot of new guys. We really need to get them some experience and understand what it takes to win at this level,” said Becker, whose team plays its first game Nov. 9 against Western Washington.
The returning players are: sophomores Colten Kresl, Deshay Gipson, Gabriel Hicks; and senior Mikey Hatfield. Kresl led the team in free throw percentage (85 percent) and was the fourth-leading scorer, at just under 9 a game. Gipson led the team in three-point shooting percentage (41 percent), and Hicks and Hatfield were freshmen who saw a great deal of playing time.
The other half of the team consists of four freshmen, five transfer players and senior David Howard, a redshirt last season.
There are a couple of big holes that need to be filled. Jonathon Nichols led the team in scoring with 13.2 points per game while Malcolm Johnson was a second-team all-conference selection and led the CCAA in rebounding.
“It’s a whole new team,” Becker said. “It’s brand new, getting these guys experience is very important.”
With the season starting next week, the team is in decent health, Becker said.
“We had a couple of guys that got banged up,” he said. “Deshay Gipson had a knee injury coming back from summer. Prince Obeni banged his knees in practice the other day. [But] other than that we are pretty good on injuries.”
Becker said a goal of pre-season is to gauge how the defense has improved from last year.
“We need to do a much better job defensively this year,” Becker said, “to have the kind of season we want to have. Anytime you can hold people between 68 and 70 [points] will be a great mark for us. That’s a goal of ours.”
On the eve of its first game of the season, Becker said that defense is more on target than the offense.
“Our defense is way ahead of our offense right now in terms of just toughness and grit,” he said. “I think we have a chance to be a pretty good defensive team this year
The toughest challenge in the first game is being able to win on the road, Becker said. Though it’s a neutral site, the Toros have not finished above .500 on the road since 2010-11.
But the big challenge early in the season will be for all the new players to bond into a cohesive unit.
“It’s difficult for guys to just pick it up in the first game and expect them to be playing at midseason form,” Becker said. “Just getting together and learning what we [can] do and our identity early will be very important.”