Men's basketball revs up for preseason play

By The Beacon | October 12, 2011 9:00pm

The Pilots rely on young talent to shine in tough preseason

By Bruce Garlinghouse Staff Writer

There is a buzz in the Chiles Center. The ear-piercing squeak of rubber on hardwood can be heard even before entering.

College basketball is upon us.

After being limited to two hours of formal team activity per week, the Pilots will have their first practice Friday as they begin the final preparation for a tough preseason.

Visits to Kentucky and Washington will be the Pilots most difficult tasks. Both matchups ended in lopsided defeats last year and the Pilots have struggled on the road in recent years, finishing 7-7 last year.

"It is about staying together," senior guard Eric Waterford said. "It's hard for any team to play on the road. We just have to play as a team."

Road games may prove to be even tougher this year, as the Pilots are a very young team with only two seniors, Nemanja Mitrovic and Waterford, and one junior, point guard Derrick Rodgers.

"I came into this season understanding the responsibility," Mitrovic said. "I not only have to do my job, but make sure the young guys are doing theirs as well."

With the exit of a senior class that was integral in bringing the program back to relevancy, there are many voids, especially in the frontcourt, that will have to be filled by young players.

Head coach Eric Reveno said he could count on any one of the freshmen to contribute immediately.

"They have been impressive across the board and they could all contribute this season," Reveno said.

Six-foot-eleven-inch center Thomas van der Mars brings a combination of height and touch that adds a scoring threat at the low post that was absent last year. The soon to be 21-year-old Netherlands native trained at the Canarias Basketball Academy in Spain before landing at UP.

In the backcourt, the Pilots lost arguably the best shooter in WCC history, Jared Stohl, but with the emergence of Mitrovic as a prolific shooter, they maintain a deep threat.

Freshman Kevin Bailey is entering surrounded by a lot of hype, being the first recruit ranked in ESPN's top 100 recruits.

Six-foot-five and weighing in at 190 pounds, he is an athletic shooting guard with the ability to create plays off the dribble and difficult mismatches for opposing teams. His athletic ability also makes him a dangerous threat off the ball and he is an excellent slasher.

They have three point guards with the ability to contribute as well.

Sophomore point guard Tim Douglas provided a spark off the bench last year and showed great poise for a freshman.

Waterford started most games last year and has tons of experience. Look to him to be the starter, but Douglas may see more minutes.

"As a coach we don't try to emphasize who is going to start," Reveno said. "It is a wide-open training camp."

Rogers is not a true point guard like Waterford and Douglas, but his strength and quickness make him a defensive threat with shutdown capabilities. Those attributes also allow him to get to the rim and the free throw line, an area the Pilots struggled in offensively in past seasons.

A tough preseason schedule could prove to be an advantage for the Pilots if they find some success. For a young team, it will prepare them for an increasingly competitive WCC.

As it has been for most of the last decade, rival Gonzaga is the conference, but the addition of BYU gives the Pilots another top 25 conference opponent.

Without Jimmer Fredette, the Cougars are not nearly the team last year's National Championship contender was, but numerous appearances in the top 25 over the past decade and multiple Mountain West Conference titles prove they can make waves immediately.

The Pilots have not beat Gonzaga while Mitrovic and Waterford have attended the school on The Bluff, but they have come close.

Mitrovic said a win against the Bulldogs would be the most important win in his collegiate career, and said he and Waterford are going to do everything they can to make sure they don't graduate being swept.

"It would mean a lot to beat them," Mitrovic said. "I know me and Eric won't let us leave without beating them.

The Pilots begin their season against Concordia University Oct. 29 at 7 p.m. in the Chiles Center.