When the UCSB men’s basketball team opens its season on Friday in Hawaii, they will be without the services of arguably their two most important players, senior guards Nick Jones and Branduinn Fullove. The season opener will be the first of an eight-game suspension for Jones, who was suspended by the NCAA for playing in an uncertified league in Mexico over the summer. Fullove is day-to-day after going down in last week’s exhibition against Ratiopharm Ulm with a left ankle injury, but he will likely not play in the first few games of the season. Though all signs are that he will return before the start of conference play, a specific date has not been set for his expected return.
The Gauchos have certainly relied on these two players heavily over the past few seasons. Jones was voted the 2002 Big West Tournament MVP and was the co-winner of the 2003 Big West Hustle Award, while Fullove was the 2003 Big West Player of the Year and an Associated Press All-American honorable mention. On the court, the presence of both players is immeasurable. Fullove has shown in past seasons that he has the ability to take over a game when he needs to, and Jones has always been noted for playing 100% at all times, contributing to the Gauchos tremendously on both ends of the floor.
In last Wednesday’s exhibition, Jones hit five of his first five shots, including four three-pointers. Additionally, when the Gauchos ran the last play of the game, the ball went into his hands for the last shot. This responsibility was expected to belong primarily to Jones or Fullove this season, as both players seem to have a higher shooting percentage in clutch situations. However, with both players gone to start the season, the remaining Gauchos will all have increased roles immediately. Fortunately for UCSB, they are stronger and deeper all around, and have plenty of players who can rise to the occasion.
Without Jones or Fullove, Santa Barbara has only one senior in the backcourt, Jacoby Atako, who will need to step up offensively to account for playing without the team’s two top returning scorers. Atako has shown early on that he has this ability. Not only has he created more scoring opportunities for himself, but he has also been able to consistently distribute the ball effectively for the rest of the offense. Atako finished last Wednesday’s game with 13 points, five assists and two steals. Furthermore, he was on the floor for 36 minutes, seven more than Jones, the next highest Gaucho. With junior guards Chrismen Oliver and Joe See perfectly capable of running the point, Atako will likely not need to average this many minutes per game, but it is unlikely that the Gauchos will be on the floor without either Atako or See on the floor.
See, a junior transfer from Oregon State, will immediately contribute to the Gauchos as a primary outside and three-point shooter. Before transferring to Santa Barbara, See led the Beavers in three-point buckets as a freshman, and is unstoppable when open from anywhere on the court. Additionally, See has shown tremendous court awareness, and can play either the one- or two-guard. In order for the Gauchos to do well without Jones and Fullove, See will need to average at least 10 points per game.
Oliver, and sophomore guards Cecil Brown and Josh Davis will all have increased roles in 2003-04. Oliver will be needed to provide some relief for Atako, Brown will need to shoot the ball well and Josh Davis, who almost redshirted this season, will need to continue where he left off last year – as a tremendous defender – and slowly increase his role in the offense.
While the Gauchos have had good depth over the past few years in the guards, the same has not been the case for the forwards until this year, most notably because of the addition of Cameron Goettsche. The sophomore transfer from Salt Lake Community College scored 18 points in the Ratiopharm Ulm exhibition, and will likely need to average nearly 15 points early on for the Gauchos to enter conference play with a winning record. While Goettsche’s ability to contribute offensively looks excellent, he will need to cut down on his turnovers to prevent easy buckets for the opposition.
Seniors Bryan Whitehead and Bray Skultety will need to continue to be good role players for the Gauchos, pulling down the bulk of the rebounds while cutting down on turnovers. This will allow junior Casey Cook to play his more natural role as an offensive threat.
Although the Gauchos are a noticeably different team without Jones or Fullove, they have the ability to win early in the season if all role-players increase their roles a little bit, and if Atako, See and Goettsche step up in major ways. This will be a challenge, but upon the return of both players, the Gauchos will have had the experience of having the game ride on other players, making the team much more confident in late game situations, and making the last shot anyone’s guess.