I know the last thing Cougar fans want to hear when talking about one of their struggling teams is the need for patience. But when it comes to this year's version of the hoops team, that's exactly what I'm requesting out of you.
Was the loss to Pepperdine on Friday a bad loss? Yeah, it was. I don't think anyone will argue that it wasn't.
But let's take a minute and consider the composition of this team to gain some perspective.
There are only ten scholarship players eligible to play this season. Of those ten:
- One (Will DiIorio) is a former walk-on who earned a scholarship.
- One (Royce Woolridge) is a redshirt sophomore who hasn't played hardly any game action since his senior year in high school.
That doesn't even take into account that of the five remaining eligible scholarship players:
- One (DaVonte Lacy) is a true sophomore.
- One (Dexter Kernich-Drew) is a redshirt sophomore -- and he didn't play much last year.
- One (D.J. Shelton) is a redshirt junior in just his second year with the program.
- One (Mike Ladd) is a redshirt senior, but in just his second year of being eligible for the Cougs and whose development last season was significantly hindered by a nagging thumb injury.
And heck, just to finish it off, the last scholarship player is Brock Motum, who despite being an all-around baller, is really just starting his second season of playing a significant role.
So there you go, the entire roster of eligible players for this season. None of the 14 have played substantial game minutes in more than one season to date.
Now remember, we're just three games into a season that began with the team's starting point guard and one of its most talented players being kicked off a month before the season started. In other words, the player the coaching staff was counting on throughout the offseason to run the offense and bring experience to the team is no longer an option.
Additionally, many of you may not be aware of how long it actually takes to install your team's full offense every season. I have been around veteran teams (see: the Sweet 16 team of 2007-08) with nearly every member of the team returning who still don't have their entire playbook built in until midseason. So imagine how hard it is for Ken Bone to do so with a team consisting of so many inexperienced players. (Related: if you believe a freshman should be playing more minutes than they are, there's a good chance it's because they aren't fully grasping the offense or defense yet. Trust me, the coaches understand when a player is ready to contribute a lot better than you do. I've seen it in person the past five years.)
Let's be realistic about this team: given all that I've laid out above, there's no doubt this season will be full of ups and downs. If you expect anything different, you're being unfair.
The one thing you can and should expect to see in every game from this team is the effort and energy with which they play. Knowing the guys on the team, I am positive we'll see that effort night in and night out. And because of that, I'm confident this team will overachieve in some games that in the past they may not have.
But this is a team that still has its limitations -- namely a lack of depth and inexperience. And that reared its ugly head against the Waves, when Motum was very clearly under the weather. But that shouldn't lead you to the conclusion that "this team sucks." It's one game, guys. You know how many teams have bad games? Almost all of them.
This is a team I fully expect to continue to grow as the season progresses. It's a group that has hardly played together and is still learning each other's tendencies and developing chemistry. They may not be (or who knows, maybe they'll surprise and they will be) an NCAA Tournament-caliber team this season, but give them some time to improve before you bash them (although really, why are you bashing them anyways? This is a program that hasn't had a losing season since 2005-06). And remember, there is a whole lot of talent sitting on the bench that will be available next season.
I know there are plenty of you out there who aren't on the Coach Bone bandwagon and will probably jump down my throat claiming the roster construction is his fault. For one, I don't agree with you. I've seen him coach these players on a daily basis the past three years, and I truly believe he is an excellent coach. As for the roster management, well, when you stop to consider that of the seven would-be seniors last year from Coach Bennett's 2008 recruiting class, only one (Marcus Capers) made it through his four years, I think it's easy to see how this team is so young and inexperienced. With the coaching change, attrition has taken its toll on this program, but that's a problem that should be nearing the end.
You don't have to agree with me --and I know many of you won't -- but how about giving this team some time before we completely write them off? We can be realistic without being pessimistic. And I firmly believe the future is bright for this program. Hopefully that future begins to shine through as the season develops.
Given everything we've gone through as Cougar fans, patience seems like a cruel request. But with this team, patience is a virtue. It's also a necessity.