As the third youngest team in the nation last season, the UCSB men’s basketball team underwent some growing pains en route to a first round exit in the Big West Tournament.
This season, however, has a chance to be special as UCSB aims to return to the top of the conference. In the Big West Preseason Media Poll, the Gauchos were selected to finish in second place in the conference and are certainly high on the radars of teams throughout the Big West.
“I think our main goal is to go out there and win a Big West championship,” junior center Alan Williams said. “I think we’re capable of doing it because we have a lot of depth, we’re very talented and we gained a lot of experience last year.”
With the Gauchos entering the season with high expectations, here is a breakdown of the key rotational players for UCSB this season.
Big Al returns as the leader of this team after averaging 17.1 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. Williams finished first in the league in rebounds, second in blocks and fourth in points per game, garnering him All Big West First Team honors.
“Alan is probably the best player in the Big West. He averaged a double-double last year. You can’t argue with that,” senior guard Kyle Boswell said. “He’s a load down low and we’re going to be feeding him. If you guard him single handedly, he’s going to definitely dominate you down low.”
Williams was once again selected to the preseason All-Conference team and will be one of the most dominant low post players in the entire country let alone the Big West.
“He’s crucial for us, he’s got to score on the block, he’s got to be a dynamic rebounder, he’s got to be a guy that draws fouls and makes free throws. And we know he will do that,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “We believe he’ll average a double-double. If Al doesn’t average 18 and 12 I’ll be surprised.”
Sam Beeler & Mitch Brewe
These pair of sophomore forwards will play behind Big Al down low. Each showed promise last season filling in for Williams during injury or foul trouble and project to remain equally involved this season as the sole post players expected to play behind Big Al this season.
“The big thing with them from last year to this year is their confidence,” Boswell said. “They’re playing a lot more confidently and that happens a lot after your freshman year. They’re playing really well, they’re going to have great contributions down low and we’re going to need them too.”
The reigning Big West Sixth Man of the Year returns as talented a shooter as ever. Boswell averaged 13 points per game last season and finished fourth in the conference with a .419 shooting percentage from beyond the arc. Only one of two seniors, Boswell will once again reprise the role as both a leader in the locker room and the first man off the bench.
“He’s a great player, a great leader and it seems like he puts in every shot he puts up,” Big Al said. “Having a spark off the bench is always great, especially when you have a guy who can put up 20 points off the bench. That’s really valuable to us.”
Brown finished last season with the all-time record for three-pointers made by a freshman in Gaucho history. The sophomore forward averaged 11.1 points and 5.3 rebounds per game and will once again provide a scoring threat both on the wing and down low with his 6’8” frame.
“Taran is the most athletic player on our team,” Boswell said. “The thing with Taran is he has to play under control and play on balance. His talent level is tremendous so it’s about him making smart plays on the court.”
The sophomore guard finished off last season with tremendous play, scoring a UCSB freshman record 29 points in the first round of the Big West Tournament. Bryson averaged 8.4 points per game last season, a number that increased to over 12.7 per game over the final 12 contests of the season.
Expected to be one of the dominant scorers for UCSB the last two seasons, Green has played in only one game during his college career due to foot injuries. Healthy entering this season, the sophomore guard will be a major addition for Santa Barbara and is projected to be one of its leading scorers.
“He’s a big time difference maker,” Big Al said. “He can go out there and score the ball; he can post up the little guards, and take the big guys out towards the perimeter. He’s a great shooter and a really great leader, so he will help us a lot.”
The senior forward provided valuable minutes as a role player and walk-on last season, starting the final six games of the regular season for UCSB.
Walker sat out last season plagued by injury, but the redshirt freshman guard may certainly contribute this season as an athletic shooting guard off the bench.
A junior transfer from Ventura College, Harmon is expected to take over the starting point guard role for UCSB this season after T.J. Taylor underwent hip surgery in the offseason. Harmon averaged nearly 16 points and six assists for Ventura last season and plays much bigger than his 6”, 185 pound frame.
“[Zalmico] is an absolute tank,” Boswell said. “He’s already played in prep school and two years in junior college, so he has a lot of experience under his belt.”
One of two true freshmen for UCSB this season, Childress is expected to compete with Harmon for the starting point spot this season after averaging over 16 points, four assists and 5.6 rebounds per game as a senior in high school.
“Our point guard position with [Eric and Zalmico] has been very solid,” Coach Williams said. “They’re tough, they defend, they’re good with [the ball]. I like their decision making skills. [Eric] has really come a long way; he’s making very good decisions.”
The sophomore walk-on played solid defense for UCSB last season and averaged nearly 12 minutes per game.
Depth is certainly not an issue for the Gauchos this season, and with all the hard work put in during the offseason for UCSB, it is no stretch to think the Big West title may once again reside in Santa Barbara come seasons end.
“I think we’re capable of winning the league and I think we’re capable of winning the Big West tournament at the end of the year,” Coach Williams said. “We’ve got the pieces if we can stay healthy and keep growing. We’ve got to develop a fighter mentality. We’re more ready to play right now than we’ve maybe ever been this early in the season.”
A version of this article appeared on page 13 of October 30th’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by Mark Brocher of the Daily Nexus.