The Most Anticipated Season in Years Opens Saturday
Oct. 12, 2004
Corvallis, Ore. - What has Oregon State basketball fans excited about the 2004-2005 season? How about all five starters returning and 11 lettermen overall? How about five newcomers who will make an immediate impact, including three who were in the program last year? How about the deepest, most experienced bench in decades? How about a non-conference schedule that rivals any of the best in years? How about a combination of them all?
Third-year head coach Jay John has taken the Oregon State basketball program from a shell of its former self to having fans' expectations at their highest since the early 1990s.
'We were excited about the team last year, but we knew we were young, thin at positions depth-wise and had a certain learning curve,' John said. 'This year our players have a year of experience, they are wiser and they are stronger. I'm excited about what this team can be.'
What this team can be is Oregon State's first winning club since 1990 and a group that can finish in the top half of the Pac-10 Conference standings and experience postseason play.
The attention for this year's team, at least early, will be the return of senior forward David Lucas (6-8, 246). The power forward went from a walkon who played a total of 29 minutes in 2001-2002 to a first team All-Pacific-10 Conference selection last season. He is one of the promising stars of the league in 2004-2005 after averaging 17.2 points (4th in the Pac-10) and 6.9 rebounds (9th). He also was among the league leaders for field goal percentage at .511.
'David is going to be a better all-around player this season because of his conditioning,' John said. 'Last year was his first full season of play and as the year progressed his statistics improved - that's a direct result of conditioning. He will be better this year because he will start the season in better shape.'
Lucas is joined in the paint by returning starter, sophomore Kyle Jeffers (6-9 1/2, 270). Jeffers started 23 games last season as a true freshman and averaged 5.1 points and 4.8 rebounds. He showed glimpses last year of what lies ahead and as his conditioning and strength improves, he will likely be a major factor in the team's success this season and in future years.
'Kyle needs to develop into a primary scorer and I think that is a natural progression for a young player to make as he gains experience,' John said. 'Kyle has a great competitive attitude and he wants to win. He also is an outstanding rebounder and has the chance to be one of the school's best ever in that category.'
Senior center Derek Potter (6-11, 247) is the veteran of the team, as this is his fifth year in the program. Injuries have slowed him each season, but if he can stay healthy he will be a tremendous asset for the team. The Canadian started five games, the first of his career, as a junior.
'Derek is our best defensive post man,' John explained. 'He's a big body who should be much improved, especially on the offensive end.'
Senior Jim Hanchett (6-6, 248), who like Lucas has the ability to step outside and hit a perimeter jumper, proved to be one of key players last year. Hanchett may be a bit undersized traditionally to play major minutes inside, but he was second on the team in rebounding at 5.5 per game. He also proved he can score against anybody and often drew the assignment of defending players much bigger than he is. Hanchett is a floor leader for the team and plays with great enthusiasm.
Hanchett, who is listed as a tight end on the Beaver football roster this fall, will join the basketball team following the football Civil War on Nov. 20. If the football squad advances to a bowl game, Hanchett will be called upon for double duty and re-join the basketball team.
'If there is one thing you can count on with Jim, it's when he comes into the game he's going to make a difference with his effort,' John said. 'I don't know that I have ever coached a more natural rebounder. I know I'm going to get everything Jim has when he is in the game.'
Aleksandar 'Sasa' Cuic (Chew-itch) joined the club in September, filling a scholarship made available when Hanchett joined the football squad. A versatile player, Cuic (6-10, 240) is expected to make immediate contributions as a freshman after averaging 14 points and 6.4 rebounds for Rotterdam of the Eredivisie League during the 2003-04 season.
'Sasa is a highly skilled player with very good basketball intelligence,' John said. 'Part of this program's offensive philosophy is be `hard to guard' and he certainly fits in that category. He will put pressure on the opposing defenses with his size and his ability to score from various spots on the court.'
The inside crew is rounded out by one of the biggest players in the history of Oregon State basketball and the Pacific-10 Conference - Liam Hughes (7-2, 293). The Englishman redshirted last season as a true freshman.
'Liam has a great work ethic and he gets better by the day, by the week and by the year,' John said. 'It's impossible to gauge just what he may become as a player. Liam is not afraid to work, learn from experiences and to compete.'
The team will be much improved at center and power forwards, and on the wing. Hanchett and Lucas do step out on the wing at times, but it's a group that includes Nick DeWitz, Kenny Hooks, Marcel Jones, Vic Remmers and Michael Johnson who will typically be in the mix.
DeWitz (6-8 1/2, 220) won't be eligible until Dec. 11 due a mid-year transfer from the University of Iowa. The junior is expected to help the team in terms of strength and his versatility. DeWitz averaged 5.1 points and 3.5 rebounds in eight games for the Hawkeyes last December and played for current Beaver assistant Jeff Reinert for one season at Utah Valley State College in 2001-2002.
'Nick can go inside and score and he can shoot from the outside, so he presents some difficult defensive match-ups for the opponents,' John said. 'When David (Lucas) wasn't in the game last year it put a lot of pressure on our offense, but with Nick available he helps alleviate that pressure. When Nick is in the game with David and Kyle or Derek, it presents very difficult match-ups for the defense.'
Sophomore Kenny Hooks (6-6 1/2, 225) has a tremendous upside and is another player who the coaching staff expects to make dramatic improvement after being at the collegiate level for one season. Hooks averaged 10.0 minutes and 2.2 points per game last season and started two contests. He is among the best pure athletes on the team.
'Kenny will be significantly better this season and he has the potential to be the best shot blocker we have,' John said. 'Kenny is already stronger and faster, and with his work ethic, he will be a significant contributor this season.'
The one true newcomer on the wing for 2004-2005 is freshman Marcel Jones (6-8, 200) from Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif. Jones, who has the reputation for being an excellent athlete, averaged 20 points and seven rebounds last season for one of the top prep programs in the nation. He will get an opportunity to make an impact this season.
'Marcel has excellent shooting range, he can score in the paint and is a solid rebounder,' John said. 'His challenge will be the speed of the game at this level. Marcel will need to contribute for us to be successful, especially with Nick being unavailable early in the season, so my hope is that he hits the ground running.'
Senior three-year letterman Vic Remmers (6-5, 215) and sophomore Michael Johnson (6-5, 227) complete the cast at the wing. Remmers played key minutes last season, particularly in conference action, and has the ability to play the two-guard. Johnson continues to develop within the program and will look for increased playing opportunities this year.
'Vic is a very intelligent player and a good team member,' John said. 'Michael has emerged as one of our leaders off the court. Both accept their roles on the team with great pride and are valuable roster members.'
Oregon State has been blessed with good perimeter players for several seasons, but this group could be the best in decades. It's a group of five individuals who have a combined 10 seasons of experience at the Division I level.
The elder-statesman of the group is senior three-year letterman J.S. Nash (6-2, 210). Nash is coming off his best season in which he averaged 10.5 points and 3.8 assists (10th in Pac-10). He scored in double figures 19 times and in addition to being among the conference leaders for assists, ranked ninth for free throw percentage (.811) and tied for seventh for steals (1.5).
'Nobody fills a stat sheet like J.S.,' John explained.'He's involved in a lot of plays off the ball and is just a very valuable, complete player. J.S. is a winner, so I know he's excited about his senior year and getting this program over the hump.'
Junior Lamar Hurd (6-4 1/2, 190) has started every game of his career (56 games). He led the Pac-10 last season for assist-to-turnover ratio (2.3) and had a streak during the conference season when he played nearly 90 minutes without turning the ball over. He finished second in the league for assists (4.9) and is on pace to be the program's third all-time leader in the category behind only Gary Payton and George Tucker. Only two players in the league averaged more minutes than Hurd's 34.2.
'The contributions and commitment he has displayed to help this program get better over the last two years have been remarkable,' John said. 'He's not afraid of competition and loves the challenges of playing at this level. He demands a lot of himself and he is always trying to ensure that team members are being taken care of - it's rare that you have to tell somebody to be more selfish, but that is the case with Lamar.'
Junior Chris Stephens (6-2, 194) has developed into one of the most feared three-point shooters in the conference. He averaged 2.65 threes per game, third in the Pac-10, and finished the year with a total of 76. That total represents the second-highest figure ever at OSU for a single season and he is on pace to break the school's career three-point field goal record of 179. He had a streak of 10 consecutive 15-plus scoring games last season, the longest such streak by a Beaver since 1990. Stephens finished the year second on the team and eighth in the conference for scoring at 15.8.
'Chris' statistics improved as the season progressed, and I anticipate him having an even better upcoming year,' John said. 'With his ability to score, Chris needs to find ways to get more open looks. He will be more effective as his shooting range increases, thus making the defense less effective against him.'
Speaking of range, sophomore Angelo Tsagarakis (6-3, 210) may have the deepest range in all of college basketball. The Frenchman drilled an OSU freshman record 45 threes and caused havoc at times for the opponents' defense. The streaky shooter averaged 6.4 points.
'Angelo is a streaky shooter who had moments where he was extremely effective, but I want him to be more consistent,' John explained. 'He developed a shot fake late last season, which helped him free up space. With his reputation he can run circles and get a defender to chase him, which ultimately is a productive thing for the entire team.'
The new individual to the perimeter, but hardly a new individual to Division I basketball, is Jason Fontenet (5-10, 169). Fontenet played two seasons at New Mexico State, where he averaged 12.2 points and 4.0 assists per game in 2003. The athletic guard has 60 games of experience, including 51 starts, and will help the program at the point and as a shooter.
'Jason is an electric player who will become a fan favorite,' John said. 'He's fast, he's a good shooter and he adds another dimension to our program. He will have some rusty stints at first due to the absence of game competition, but I'm excited about his contributions.'
*Practices are open to the public. Saturday (Oct. 16) 8-11 a.m.; Sunday (Oct. 17) 2-5 p.m. Weekdays 4-7 p.m.
Starters Ret. (5) HT WT CL POS PPG RPG APGDavid Lucas 6-8 246 Sr. F 17.2 6.9 0.9Chris Stephens 6-2 194 Jr. G 15.8 2.6 1.4J.S. Nash 6-2 210 Sr. G 10.5 3.6 3.8Kyle Jeffers 6-9 1/2 270 So. C 5.1 4.8 0.6Lamar Hurd 6-4 1/2 190 Jr. G 5.3 3.5 4.9
Other Retur. (6) HT WT CL POS PPG RPG APGJim Hanchett 6-6 248 Sr. F 7.3 5.5 1.1Angelo Tsagarakis 6-3 210 So. G 6.4 1.2 0.8Kenny Hooks 6-6 1/2 225 So. F 2.0 1.6 0.2Vic Remmers 6-5 215 Sr. G 1.5 0.5 0.3Derek Potter 6-11 248 Sr. C 1.3 1.9 0.4Michael Johnson 6-5 227 So. G/F 0.1 0.1 0.1
Newcomers (1) HT WT CL POS Last SchoolAleksandar Cuic 6-10 240 Fr. F First Gimnasium (Rijeka, Croatia)Marcel Jones 6-8 200 Fr. G/F Mater Dei (Cal.)
Lettermen Lost (1) HT WT POS PPG RPG APGKevin Field 6-11 265 C 1.3 1.0 0.1
*Not eligible until Dec. 11.