SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - With 12 days of practice behind it and a week before its exhibition opener, the UC Santa Barbara men's basketball team is working to find an identity in the post Orlando Johnson and James Nunnally era. The Gauchos will have a very young, but talented, roster this season with the influx of nine freshmen.
"All the new blood has made this really exciting," said head coach Bob Williams who is entering his 15th season at the helm of the Gauchos. "We're seeing progress everyday. There is a lot of talent and once this group sort of finds itself things should really click."
Among the most pleasant surprises with just one week to go before the exhibition debut has been the play of the point guards.
"One thing I'm pleased with is the play of our four point guards and the competitiveness of that group," Williams said. "They each bring something different to the plate and I think people are really going to like them."
The point guard foursome includes the team's only senior, Nate Garth, as well as sophomore T.J. Taylor and freshmen Dalanté Dunklin and Duke DaRe. Dunklin may be the biggest surprise. His decision-making, athletic ability, strength, toughness and quickness have all impressed the head coach.
"Dalanté is really good," Williams said. "He's been even better than we had hoped and he'll allow us to do some things on both ends of the court that we really couldn't last year. He has so much upside defensively because he is so tough and strong. It will be great to watch him develop."
Another major positive in early practices has been the development of off-guard Kyle Boswell. A junior, Boswell emerged as a scoring threat last season when he averaged 7.5 points per game in an average of 21.9 minutes. This season he will be expected to take his game up another notch and through the first 12 days of practice that seems to be the case.
"He is shooting the ball incredibly well and looks really good right now," Williams said. "We really like his maturity level and he doesn't have to play third fiddle to Orlando and Nunnally this anymore. I think Kyle has also taken his all-around game to a new level and that's huge for us."
Redshirt freshman Taran Brown and true freshman Michael Bryson, will undoubtedly play major roles on the wing for the Gauchos this season. The 6-foot-8 Brown, the 2011 Wyoming State Player of the Year, is the leading candidate to start at the small forward spot while the 6-foot-4 Bryson should see time at the small forward and off-guard spot. Both have outstanding potential.
Junior Keegan Hornbuckle was hobbled by a sprained ankle at the start of practice but is rounding into shape and should start alongside super sophomore Alan Williams in the frontcout. Last year, Williams' performance in the second half of the season pushed him into the elite post players in the Big West and that trend is expected to continue. In league games in 2011-12 he averaged 9.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.0 blocked shots.
"Al looks really good and we are pleased with his development from last year to this year," Williams said. "He is a big strong player, in great shape and he is starting to fit more into his role."
Sophomore Lewis Thomas has developed as well and will be a primary backup to Hornbuckle. Alan Williams' will be spelled by a duo of freshmen, 6-foot-8 Mitch Brewe and 6-foot-10 Sam Beeler. Both have had impressive moments since the opening of practice.
"Mitch is very physical and plays incredibly hard," Williams said. "Beeler is longer and jumps better, but they will both be a part of our success this year.
The young Gauchos will make their debut on Thursday, Nov. 1 when they host La Verne in the only exhibition game of the year. They will open the regular season with a road swing to LSU and Illinois State before returning home for a Nov. 17 regular season home opener against The Master's College.
Season tickets for both the men's and women's teams are available from the Ticket Office in the Intercollegiate Athletics Building on campus, by calling 805-893-UCSB (8272) or online by clicking here for men's season tickets and here for women's season tickets.
UCSB is proud to announce that it is celebrating the 35th anniversary of the Thunderdome (#thunderdome35) over the next two seasons and as part of the celebration all season ticket holders will receive commemorative season tickets that will showcase some of the greatest players to wear the blue and gold and some of the greatest moment in the buildings history. The 2012-13 season tickets will feature great players and the 2013-14 tickets will feature great moments.