Boise State basketball coach Leon Rice has always depended on the development of players rather than the recruiting of finished products.
Having lost five letterwinners from his 2015-16 team, including four starters, that development will need to happen in a hurry.
The Broncos officially began practice Monday with question marks all over the board. The team that went 20-12 a year ago is nowhere to be seen; seven new players will take the court this year. Though he said this is his best team in terms of ball movement, not even Rice knows what he has. Only 35 percent of his scoring returns from last season.
“It feels like I started the program over again,” said Rice, now in his seventh season. “That kind of reenergizes you. (I’m) excited. And to have this many young guys that we’re excited about, that makes for a bright future. But there’s a lot of work to be done.”
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Gone are guards Anthony Drmic, Lonnie Jackson, Mikey Thompson and Montigo Alford. All-Mountain West first-team forward James Webb III left early for the NBA. Though Rice had a glimpse of his team over the summer in a tournament in Costa Rica and in team workouts, there are still unknowns.
“We have a lot of questions to answer about playing time, about roles, about who can fill what position, about who has what strengths,” Rice said. “It’s going to be a fun team to watch grow. A fun team to watch develop.”
Boise State returns a talented cast of characters. Senior Nick Duncan is the lone returning starter and averaged 11.6 points per game in 2015-16. Also back are sophomore point guard Paris Austin and junior forward Chandler Hutchison, who averaged 4.1 and 6.8 points per game, respectively. Sophomore center Robin Jorch and redshirt sophomore forward Zach Haney also contributed last season, and redshirt sophomore David Wacker is back after suffering a foot injury in practice Dec. 3. Wacker played seven games and was granted a medical redshirt.
The team added four freshmen (Derrick Alston, Marcus Dickinson, Alex Hobbs and Justinian Jessup) and junior college transfer Cameron Oluyitan in recruiting. Malek Harwell and James Reid are active after redshirting last season.
Rice’s staff also underwent changes. Phil Beckner and Mike Burns joined Rice’s coaching staff in the offseason to replace Jeff Linder (Northern Colorado head coach) and Danny Henderson (Oklahoma State assistant).
“With all these young guys, I wanted to go hire guys that, their No. 1 thing is player development. And I think I hit home runs,” said Rice. “I wanted guys that were different (from me) in a lot of ways. Because that’s what’s made my staff successful in the previous years. And I think that’s what I have here.”
The sheer amount of questions in the lineup has Boise State in a different position than in recent years. The Broncos won the Mountain West regular-season title and made the NCAA Tournament in 2014-15. Last season’s team was expected to make another tournament run but lost in the MW quarterfinals.
Boise State is an underdog this year, and Austin is looking at that position as an opportunity to prove people wrong.
“When you’re the underdog, people overlook you. So that just gives us more motivation to work even harder,” Austin said. “So when people are not looking forward to us doing big things … We surprise people. We’ll be the people that know it.”
Broncos add first commit of 2017 class
Class of 2017 small forward/shooting guard Roberto Gittens from Foss High (Tacoma, Wash.) has committed to Boise State, Foss head coach Mike Cocke confirmed with the Idaho Statesman on Monday.
Gittens is the Broncos’ first known commit in the 2017 recruiting class.
“He’s a good kid. He’s a fun loving kid, a good teammate. Likes to be involved in a team enivornment,” Cocke said. “He’s been a pleasure to coach.”
Gittens, a 6-foot-5 wing player, is listed as a four-star recruit by Scout.com. He led Foss in scoring last season, averaging 21.9 points per game to go along with a team-high 8.9 rebounds per game. His scoring average was good for No. 19 in Washington. Gittens also holds offers from Montana and Hofstra, according to 247Sports.com.
“He is a physical specimen for his age. High-level athlete. Plays above the rim, can shoot the ball pretty well. Dynamic scorer, I would say,” Cocke said. “Just a very multi-talented kid.”
Gittens took his official visit to Boise State the weekend of the Broncos’ football game against Washington State, according to Cocke.