Oct. 1, 2001
It's basketball's equivalent of baseball's spring training where every team (except perhaps Saint Mary's) can see itself cutting down the nets in San Diego for a trip to "The Big Dance." The crack or ping of the bat is replaced by the echo of a bouncing ball. The smell of the grass becomes the eye-catching glossy hardwood at Leavey.
"It's an exciting time," says Dick Davey, about to begin his 10th season (Yes, Arizona was THAT long ago). "We haven't really done anything basketball-wise in six months and we're ready to go back to work. It's an intriguing time with four new players to see if they are going to be as good as we thought they would be."
How good will the Broncos be?
That depends on how the team addresses the biggest question marks: rebounding and defense. In Brian Jones, the Broncos had the best on-ball defender in the conference and was the 2nd leading rebounder to Jamie Holmes, who hauled in 7.5 rebounds a game. Replacing two first-team all league guys will be tougher than sneaking a fastball past Barry Bonds.
Kyle Bailey asked Davey if number 11 (previously worn by Steve Nash) was retired. When DD said no, Bailey said maybe the school could retire the number when he was through. If the reports on his workouts are accurate, Bailey will continue the great lineage of point guards at Santa Clara.
In Bailey, Steve Ross, and Justin Holbrook, the Broncos have the best perimeter shooting this side of Spokane. If Ross commits himself on the defensive end, he is a legitimate 1st-teamer. Holbrook will start at the four and create problems by pulling his man away from the basket.
The defense will be anchored by seniors Brian Vaka and David Emslie. Vaka brings an energy and passion that is contagious among teammates. He'll need to look for his shot more but will not have the pressure to be a big-time scorer with the others in the lineup. Emslie must continue to get stronger, avoid bad fouls and bring it every night. I've been touting Emmer the last 2 years and it's his time.
The schedule features three teams from the Pac-10 (Cal, Washington and Stanford), Fresno State and a trip to Ohio State and Wright State. As usual, Steve Seandel has put together a tough schedule designed to get the group ready for WCC play. An outsider may say that a difficult schedule could demoralize a team in its embryonic stage. But they turned it around last year after suffering the worst back-to-back losses in school history and still came within a possession of a trip to the promised land.
Next time, I'll break down the reserves, but keep this in mind: In the last five years, the Broncos have either lost to the team that made the NCAA's on the final possession or fell in the conference title game. As a famous fire-walking motivational speaker stresses: "The outcome is not enough, you must enjoy the journey along the way."
It all starts October 13th. Get ready for the ride.