After three years of the best core of basketball players the university has ever seen, the UCSB men’s basketball team will try to reload as they start the 2012-13 season. With Orlando Johnson, James Nunnally, Jaime Serna and Greg Somogyi graduating last spring, UCSB goes from a veteran squad to one of, if not the youngest team in the nation.
With six freshmen, true and redshirt alike, expected to contribute this season, the Gauchos will look for numerous players to step up throughout the season with no established go-to scorer on the team and only one senior.
Many new faces will be gracing Gaucho blue and gold, so let’s examine the key players this season for UCSB. With no established starting lineup entering the season, anyone can become the next star for UCSB.
Lone senior Nate Garth and sophomore T.J. Taylor return after splitting time at the point last season. Garth (2.8 PPG, 2.4 APG) improved his shooting during the summer, a noticeable flaw in his game last season. Taylor (3.1 PPG, 1.8 APG), meanwhile, returns with his superb speed and ability to drive into the lane. Neither controlled the position last season, however, as Orlando Johnson ran the offense for the latter half of the year.
Entering the fold are freshmen Dalante Dunklin and Duke DaRe. Dunklin brings a physical nature similar to Johnson’s, according to Head Coach Bob Williams, and will help the team tremendously with his tenacious perimeter defense. DaRe will see playing time as a fourth option at the point after coming to UCSB as a preferred walk-on.
“I don’t know who is going to take the reins there; it’s an interesting battle,” Williams said. “We feel very comfortable about our point guard position. We think we have great depth, we have four players there who are going to play … so we feel pretty comfortable with that.”
Returning at guard for UCSB is sharp-shooting junior Kyle Boswell who shot .435 from behind the three-point line last season, good for third in the league. Boswell averaged 7.5 points per game and ranked fourth on the team in both points and minutes. Coming off the bench last season as the sixth man, Boswell was an integral part of the team, adding much-needed scoring off the bench.
“We think right now, we probably have to start [Boswell] early,” Williams said. “Ultimately, we would love to be able to have the luxury of bringing him off the bench. He’s so good, such a spark, such a valuable player coming off the bench, but we have to wait and see.”
True freshman Michael Bryson comes in as a talented recruit who can shoot and will likely spell Boswell at the two position, at least for the beginning of the season.
“It’s going to take some time. We’re going to have some patience to let this team grow up a little bit,” Williams said. “We’re the youngest team in the country. Between walk-ons and scholarship kids, we have 11 freshmen, and you need some patience to develop that.”
After battling injuries for most of last season, junior Keegan Hornbuckle returns with a starting spot most likely in hand. Hornbuckle averaged 3.6 points last season but was inconsistent throughout the year, sometimes looking like a bench player while other moments like a star caliber player. He will likely split time between the small forward and power forward spot.
“They’ve got to grow up. They have to go through their growing pains,” Williams said. “It’s not going to come out and be all smooth and a bed of roses early. There’s going to be ups and downs, we’re going to look good for four minutes and bad for four minutes.”
Redshirt freshman Taran Brown will look to gain action on the floor for the first time this season with a strong chance at starting at the small forward spot. At 6’8”, Brown possesses the height for the power forward position but is a talented athlete and shooter better suited for perimeter play.
“It’s the idea that we have to gradually be learning, and they have to be sponges and absorbing and putting into action what they absorb,” Williams said. “They’re a talented group, we’ve got good basketball players; it’s just a matter of growing up.”
Coming off the bench will be Australian sophomore Lewis Thomas, who averaged 1.1 points and 1.3 rebounds per game last season. Thomas will fill in as a backup to Hornbuckle at the four position.
Possibly the most recognized player returning for the Gauchos is sophomore center Alan Williams, who averaged 6.9 points and 6.5 rebounds per game last season. Half of Williams’ rebounds were on the offensive end, as he led the Gauchos in rebounds despite playing only 17 minutes a game. Williams became a starter at the end of last season and is the leading candidate once again this season to lead the team in rebounds.
“We’re going to have to utilize Al by setting good screens and [him] being a good rebounder,” Williams said. “We have to utilize him by getting him the ball on the right place on the floor where he can be effective. He has to do a good job of playing without fouling.”
A pair of freshmen in Mitch Brewe and Sam Beeler will spell Williams at the center position while playing power forward as well. Brewe brings his 6’8”, 242-pound bruising frame into the low post for the Gauchos and is primarily an inside player.
“It’s just important that they have a confidence level in teammates and they come out and play confident,” Williams said. “You can’t play scared in the game of basketball, and if you do, you’re going to get eaten up. All of these freshmen have had a pretty high level of success in high school, so they’re all pretty confident kids.”
Beeler meanwhile is 6’10” but a mere 210 pounds. In his senior season of high school, Beeler averaged seven blocks per game.
“The most pleasant surprise for us is the readiness of Mitch Brewe and the readiness of Sam Beeler,” Williams said. “We feel pretty comfortable if we have to play either one of them right now.”
UCSB begins play on Thursday, Nov. 1 in an exhibition game when they host La Verne College. Without a set starting lineup, Thursday’s game will give coaches and fans alike a good look at how the team performs and potentially who will step up in live-game situations.
“We’ll run people in that game in waves to get a feel for what we have. There are so many new faces and so many new people that the idea of who starts really isn’t very important right now,” Williams said. “It’s us gaining information as coaches on our players whether or not we’re getting any better with what we’re trying to do. I anticipate there will be a lot of changing lineups with the first five to eight games.”
Entering the season, UCSB was ranked fifth in the preseason conference poll, an homage to the team’s recent success, but also a realization that UCSB is no longer an unquestioned member at the top of the conference with the departure of the core group of seniors.
“I think it’s fair, a pretty good compliment to our recruiting,” Williams said. “In past years, teams that won the league were picked sixth in conference. So, get some chemistry, get gelled, who knows what could happen.”
Tip-off for the La Verne game is scheduled for this Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Thunderdome.