After a team-building Labor Day Weekend trip to Canada, the Broncos are excited and anxious for the 2007-08 season.
Despite going 2-2 because the Broncos were without the services of two players for all four games, two players for two games and one player for three games; the feeling around Boise State is the trip was just what the team needed to prepare for a season that the Broncos hope ends in their first WAC championship.
While the Broncos lost a pair of three-year starters in the back court and a couple of valuable reserves, the Broncos return five letterman who have been through the battles and should give the Broncos a nucleus that can lead the team to its ultimate goal.
Add in four talented players who redshirted last season and three junior college transfers and coach Greg Graham feels he has a team as balanced, versatile and deep as any in his six seasons at Boise State.
The Broncos return the talented and tough inside tandem of Reggie Larry and Matt Nelson, which should give Boise State as good an inside game as any team in the Western Athletic Conference. Last year’s redshirts, Kurt Cunningham and Zack Moritz, and a junior college transfer, Mark Sanchez, add a variety of skills backing up Nelson and Larry that makes Graham feel like he has a complete group of bigs that won’t necessitate moving small forwards to the front line for the first time since he has been at Boise State.
In the backcourt the Broncos lost a pair of 1,000-point career scorers in All-WAC pick Coby Karl and Eric Lane, but Boise State feels they have the bodies and talent to more than make up for the loss.
Sophomore point guard Anthony Thomas showed flashes of brilliance last season and was named the WAC Freshman of the Year, the first honor of its kind for Boise State since joining the WAC before the 2001-02 season.
Senior Tyler Tiedeman and Matt Bauscher add experience and knowledge at the wing positions and should improve with more opportunities with Karl and Lane out of the mix.
The wild card, or wild cards, in the backcourt are what makes this season so exciting. Boise State returns a pair of redshirt freshmen in Paul Noonan and Shawn Rouse who could make a big impact on what happens this season if they progress like expected after very good redshirt seasons. Junior college transfers Jamar Greene and Aaron Garner will challenge for playing time immediately after very successful seasons at their junior colleges where Greene was one of the nation’s leading scorers and Garner made his team one of California’s winningest programs.
The schedule may be as exciting as any in Boise State history. Two of last year’s NCAA teams come to Taco Bell Arena before Christmas, and two more come during conference play.
After opening the season at home against Utah Valley, the Broncos will host a Washington State team that should be in the top 10 and many have picked to advance to the Final Four after an NCAA Tournament berth last year. Boise State nearly upset the Cougars last season in Spokane, leading most of the game before losing 65-63.
BYU comes to Boise in December and the Broncos will look to repeat their memorable win over the Cougars from last season. Boise State will also host San Diego, Loyola Marymount and Montana Tech before conference play starts and Cal State Bakersfield in February.
The Broncos have a tough non-conference road schedule as well, making a trip to Albany, New York, to play Albany, an NCAA Tournament team last season. The Broncos also will visit Montana State, Idaho State, Southern Utah and San Francisco.
The WAC season looks as tough as ever. Graham expects most teams to be as good or better than they were last season, a year where the Broncos finished 8-8 but lost a number of close games including one-point losses at Utah State and Fresno Statetwo of the tougher places to play in the WAC.
All-WAC candidates Larry (6-6, 224) and Nelson (6-9, 232) give Boise State two of the best scorers and rebounders returning in the WAC.
Larry was second on the team in scoring and rebounding last year and eighth and sixth in the WAC averaging 14.1 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. He improved those numbers in league games averaging 15.1 points and 8.8 rebounds per game.
The athletic power forward is a versatile player who can score on the block, off the dribble and from 15 feet. He thrives on the offensive glass and is always a threat to give Boise State second chance points. He runs the floor well, which helps him thrive in the Broncos’ up-tempo system.
Nelson, who started two seasons at Eastern Washington before starting for the Broncos last year, led the team in rebounding as a junior and finished third on the team in scoring averaging 13.5 points and 8.9 rebounds. He was 12th in the WAC in scoring and fourth in rebounding and like Larry, his numbers were even better in WAC play averaging 13.8 points and 9.5 rebounds.
He is a strong back to the basket threat on offense who can also step outside and shoot the mid-range jumper. He is tenacious on the boards and combined with Larry makes it difficult for opponents to stop Boise State’s running game.
The Broncos have a better contingent of players backing up Nelson and Larry this season. A sophomore, Cunningham returns to action this season, after redshirting last year because of a foot injury.
He has a big body that he isn’t afraid to throw around and coaches rave about his passing ability. Cunningham has also dropped 10 pounds from last season that should help him in the Broncos transition game.
Moritz (6-10, 246), a freshman who redshirted last year, is an intriguing addition to Boise State’s rotation this year. He is as skilled as any of the Bronco big men with the ability to score inside and out. He runs the floor well and Bronco coaches expect him to improve during the season as much as anyone on the roster.
Sanchez (6-7, 235), a junior college transfer from Pima Community College in Tucson, could make a serious run at some playing time but also has a redshirt year available. Like Moritz, he has the ability to score inside and out and he proved to be a good rebounder in junior college.
Ike Okoye (6-9, 230) won’t play because he has to redshirt after transferring from Wyoming, but his impact will be felt in practice. Okoye gives the Broncos a big athletic front line player, the type who gave the Broncos problems last season, to challenge the Broncos in practice.
Karl and Lane won’t be in the Broncos lineup for the first time since the 2002-03 season, but the Broncos are still excited about what coaches feel should be a strength of the team.
The group is deep, versatile and talented and gives the Broncos a number of combinations that could affect opponent’s defenses. The Broncos can go fast, big or small. They can also throw shooters, players who can get to the basket and those who excel in transition at the opponents. They should also be much better perimeter defenders.
Thomas (6-0, 205) should take the reigns of the team moving into the point guard spot after backing up Karl and Lane at the position last year. By the end of the season, the WAC Freshman of the Year, showed enough promise to become a regular part of the playing rotation. He was named WAC Player of the Week in February after big games against Western Montana and Albany and proved to be a clutch player hitting the game-winning 3-pointer late in the Broncos win over Albany.
Thomas primary weapon is speed. He likes to take the ball and go, whether it is in transition or the half-court offense. He also has the ability to be a strong defender because of his quickness and strength.
Tiedeman (6-7, 212) brings the Broncos experience at one of the two wing positions. He has started and come off the bench for the Broncos in his previous two seasons and should get more opportunities with the absence of Karl. He is one of the bigger wings for the Broncos and can get into the key and score off the drive or by positing up.
Bauscher (6-3, 205) also brings experience to one of the two wing positions and like Tiedeman, he has started and come off the bench. Bauscher is a tenacious and scrappy player who isn’t afraid to dive for a loose ball or guard the other teams best perimeter threat.
The two backcourt players who redshirted last season could make as big an impact on the team as anyone. Noonan (6-7, 210) and Rouse (6-6, 187) are different types of players but both have the ability to be game changers.
Noonan will remind many of Karl. He’s a long and athletic player who can shoot and get to the basket. Graham calls him Boise State’s best shooter since he’s been at the school. He missed three games on the Canadian tour after spraining an ankle in the first game so he didn’t get the opportunity to show what he could do on the trip.
Rouse is more of a up-tempo threat who can really get to the rim in transition or in the half-court offense. He is as athletic as anyone on the team and is a long rangy player who has the ability to score. He missed the Canadian tour because of passport problems so he is somewhat of a wildcard in the race for playing time.
Boise State’s two junior college transfers may have been the most impressive players on the Canadian tour. Both had excellent numbers in junior college and carried them over to the team-bonding trip to British Columbia.
Garner (6-3, 175) signed with the Broncos during the early signing period last November after a stellar freshman season and then proceeded to have a great sophomore season. Garner led his team to a 50-18 record in two seasons at Yuba Community College. In Canada he averaged 15.8 points and 3.0 rebounds per game.
Greene (6-3, 203) was a late signee for the Broncos, committing to the team over the summer after originally planning to attend Seton Hall. He averaged 25.8 points per game as a sophomore at Baltimore County Community College and was the 10th leading scorer in all of NJCAA. In Canada, after not playing much in the first game, he stepped up and had 23 points in one game and 20 in another. He finished the four-game tour averaging 12.8 points and 3.7 rebounds per game.