bleedCrimson.net: It’s a brand new season, you’ve got a bunch of new players as well as a few experienced returning players. How do you feel like your team has taken shape during the preseason?
Marvin Menzies: I’m happy with the offseason work the guys put in. I thought they were very diligent about getting in and working on their games independently of the coaching staff. We’ve got some guys that are new but not necessarily new to the university and the program which gives us a nice comfort level because they’ve been around. Jalyn [Pennie], Matthew [Taylor], Johnathan [Wilkins] , Tanveer [Bhullar], I think having all of those guys around has helped for a quick start the chemistry and productiveness that we’re having so far in practice.
bc.net: The new guys that you mentioned that were redshirts that practiced with you last year and were around, what do those guys bring to the table in their basketball ability?
MM: They’re all long guys that are athletic and can play multiple positions for the most part. They’re guys that fit into a system that’s a more up tempo style of play and they’re all great people.
bc.net: You’ve mentioned that you want to play a more up tempo style this year and that you feel you have the personnel and depth to do that this year. I know it’s something you’ve wanted to do since you first got here and you’ve built your rosters to try to do that. Do you feel like this year’s team, at least on paper, is the most capable of playing that style?
MM: I think the second and third year we had some of that type of talent but we definitely have if not the most or the best fit for that style, we’re definitely in that ballpark. I’m not sure if they’re the absolute best because it’s too early to tell but on paper you would think so.
bc.net: Ian Baker is one of the young guys returning that got playing time last year. What kind of progress have you seen from him over the offseason?
MM: I would expect it to be good. He only played half a season, he didn’t play the full year. People forget that sometimes because they remember seeing him performing very well in the WAC Tournament and then NCAA Tournament but for the most part he was a half season guy. I think he’ll continue to improve dramatically through the course of this season which on paper is his sophomore year. He’s a competitor, he’s a savvy point guard that’s able to score the ball as well as run a team. He’s just one of those kids that with time will progress incrementally.
bc.net: Out of the new guys, who do you think will surprise people the most with their athleticism and basketball ability?
MM: I’m not sure because we have a lot of guys with that potential. Johnathan Wilkins was injured for a while and he hasn’t had a chance to get in as many reps as some of the other guys but since he’s come back off his injury he’s been playing really well. Pascal Siakim is another one who has shown in spurts that he can be a very productive offensive scorer as well as a defensive enforcer. Those two guys stand out a little bit because of their size and length. But I think the guards have a chance as well as the season unfolds. But probably Pascal and Johnathan if I had to narrow it down a bit.
bc.net: DK Eldridge is in his second year in the program after transferring in from junior college. You’ve been pretty adamant in the fact that it takes a junior college player a season to adjust to the Division I level and we saw that adjustment with Kevin Aronis last year. What are you expecting to see from DK this year?
MM: It’s the same. I’m expecting him to play like a true senior. I expect him to be a better shooter, a better all around defensive player. I expect him to be more comfortable in the system and I expect him to be one of the guys who leads by example in terms of his passion, energy and work ethic.
bc.net: You’ve mentioned that Tanveer Bhullar won’t be available for the Wichita State game because of injury and obviously there’s a lot of excitement around him after having Sim on the team the last couple of year. How are those two different in their style of play?
MM: They’re similar in some ways and they’re quite different in others. Their personalities are different but their game is the same in the way that because of their size they can make guys change their shots and be defensive forces on the interior. Offensively they’re a little different in terms of the ways that they go about scoring the ball. Obviously being brothers they’ve got some things that are quite similar but being individuals they’ve got some things that are different.
bc.net: The opening games against Wichita State and Saint Mary’s may be the two toughest back-to-back games as far as season openers since you’ve been the head coach with maybe the exception of the Ohio/Duke opener your first season. What do you want to see from your team in those two games?
MM: I want to see wins. I want to see them go out and compete at a high level. I want to see how they handle adversity and I want to see how they handle the environment. I want to see them do a lot of the things that are going to be and continue to be staples of the program which is their ability to do the little things like getting to the floor first, helping a teammate up, hustling, having good body language, being engaged with their teammates, being unselfish, the list goes on. There are a lot of intangibles that you can pick up on at this stage but you’re going to have a lot of mistakes, you’re going to have a lot of miscues, it’s early in the season. You’re going to have a lot of things that don’t necessarily go your way because of your execution. That’s expected and I think that will get cleared up as the season goes but that’s the same with every team in the country. I think the main thing is what I mentioned at first and making sure they’re playing with that type of mentality. That’s going to be the most critical thing.
bc.net: Wichita State is obviously a very good defensive team and you faced a very good defensive team at the end of last season in San Diego State and were able to handle the defensive pressure well. Do you think that’s something that the guys that are returning who played in that game can take and apply to this game?
MM: Yeah you would hope so. You would hope that they’d learn from every game and take stuff away even in games where they blow other teams out. There’s still things to learn about yourself and your team. We hope that will carry over from last season. We played our last game very competitively and so we’re hoping we can pick up from where we left off with just a different verdict.
bc.net: As you head into this season with having only played an exhibition game against Western New Mexico but having seen them daily in practice and you have your expectations for them, what is one thing you think going into the season you’re going to be very good at and what is one thing that you’re not all that good at right now that you want to see progress as you go through the season?
MM: Well I don’t think they’re very good at rebounding the ball right now from a defensive standpoint. I don’t think we’re hitting people. I think we’re trying to rely on our athleticism and just go get balls. The problem is when you do that you release too quickly and you don’t create contact and mandate a nice seal and efficient block out as a result you give the offensive player an opportunity to make it a 50/50 ball and get along side of you or even get in front of you. Then the offensive rebounds go up for the other team. That’s definitely an area that based off what I see in practice and in our exhibition matchup that we’re going to have to work on considerably to get efficient there.
The one thing I think we do do well is I think we’re sharing the ball at a higher rate and we’re being very unselfish at this point. That’s something that’s a positive and I’m hopeful that that continues.