With the injury bug once again striking the men’s basketball program, tonight’s game against UC San Diego will provide Gaucho fans with their first look at a young, but talented UCSB team.
Following the injury to sixth-year senior guard Cecil Brown, junior guard Alex Harris will slide back over to the shooting guard position. Freshman guard James Powell is expected to get the start at point guard with fellow freshman Justin Joyner backing him up, in what will be the first collegiate game for both highly touted recruits.
“It is going to be an ongoing process, but we want the freshmen to get those first game jitters out. We want to get them geared up for the season,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “These games are really important when it comes to getting ready for the first game. It’s kind of like our spring training.”
Preseason All-Big West selection senior forward Chris Devine will anchor a Gaucho frontcourt that will lack experience but not size. With senior forward Glenn Turner out indefinitely with a groin injury, Devine – a 6’8″ senior – will move from his natural power forward spot to small forward. Forwards junior Ivan Elliott and sophomore Tom Garlepp, both 6’8″, will join Devine in the Gaucho frontcourt.
The addition of Elliott should help the Gauchos immensely, as he is expected to provide the team with a strong defense and rebounding inside. With Turner still out of the lineup, the West Valley College transfer will get a chance to prove himself right away.
“Ivan [Elliott] will get a ton of minutes. He has a chance to be a really important role player,” Williams said. “He does lots of little things to help the team and keep the ball alive.”
UCSB was picked to finish fifth in the Big West in the preseason coaches’ and media polls. Devine and Darren Fells of UC Irvine were the only juniors selected to the preseason all conference team, and with Brown likely out until January, Devine will be counted on to lead the way for the young Gaucho squad.
“He’s being challenged to step up more as a leader. Chris [Devine] has to take his overall game to another level,” Williams said. “His physical presence needs to be stamped on this team.”
The Alaska native averaged 12.2 points and 5.9 rebounds per game last year, after sitting out the previous two seasons due to injury. Devine will shoulder the majority of the scoring load early on, along with Harris, who is moving permanently to the wing positions after spending most of his UCSB career as a point guard. Harris averaged 7.4 points per game as a freshman and 8.3 as a sophomore, but he should see increased scoring chances this season after moving away from the point.
Harris’ old ball-handling and playmaking duties now fall squarely on the shoulders of Powell and Joyner. Both players come into UCSB as good passers and three-point shooters, with Joyner also having a reputation as a tenacious defender.
Tonight’s game is the first of three straight games at the Thunderdome for the Gauchos. Opening tip-off will be at 7 p.m.