Oct. 19, 1999
The Bob Williams Factor: Year Two
Head coach Bob Williams enters his second year with the Gauchos and if last year is any indication, he knows what he is doing.
The 1999 Big West Coach of the Year, Williams will take a deeper, if somewhat unproven, roster into the new season. Last season he really only had seven or eight players who he could consistently call on. This year, if all goes as expected, he will have nine or ten legitimate options to call on.
The Backcourt: Experience & Depth
The Gaucho backcourt will consist of four returnees, a redshirt and three newcomers. Derrick Allen (6.7 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 4.2 APG and 2.4 SPG) and Larry Bell (3.6 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 4.3 APG and 1.4 SPG) will share the point guard duties. Williams believes it was their emergence last season that led to the team's dramatic turnaround after the first eight games.
"Derrick Allen and Larry Bell, in a lot of ways, represented our basketball program last year," he said. "B.J. (Bunton) and Josh (Merrill) played well early and maintained it. It was the play of Allen and Bell that really elevated us from 0-8 to 15-5."
Allen, who led the league in steals and was among the league-leaders in assists, seized a starting spot in the preseason and held on to it all year. Bell became a starter at mid-season last year. By the end of the campaign, he led the Gauchos in assists and had also become a defensive stalwart.
The Gaucho future at the point guard slot is represented by B.J. Ward, a freshman out of Oxnard's Santa Clara High School. Last year he helped lead his prep team to the California State Division 5 Championship. This year, he is a candidate to redshirt.
"B.J. Ward will be an outstanding player," Williams predicted. "He is so quick, you just can't stay in front of him."
UCSB has five candidates for the two wing spots. Senior Erick Ashe (10.6 PPG, 2.6 APG, 38.8% from the field overall and 31.2% from three-point range) and junior Brandon Payton (9.1 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 35.9% from the field overall and 29.7% from three-point range) will be expected to improve on their field goal percentages.
"Ashe is a very experienced and mature player," Williams said. "He improved a great deal as last year progressed. Brandon (Payton) is still the best player on this team at creating his own shot. Last year he hit some really key shots and from 17-feet in, he is deadly."
Still, Williams believes that perhaps the area most in need of improvement in 1999-2000 is outside shooting.
"Our offensive perimeter game has to be better," he began. "We can't have our two best shooting off-guards shoot the ball 27-percent from the three-point line. We can't be a 32-percent three-point shooting team and be effective."
Two newcomers could play key roles in shoring up the Santa Barbara perimeter game. LaRon Bryant, a junior transfer from American River Junior College and Nick Jones, a freshman who teamed with B.J. Ward at Santa Clara High School in Oxnard last year, are both outstanding outside shooters. Bryant could provide immediate help and Jones, another redshirt candidate, will be a major part of the Gaucho future.
"LaRon Bryant is one of the best shooters that I've ever been around, either at Davis or here," Williams assessed. "We do shooting workouts where you have to make 100 before you stop. The guys were doing the workout and Derrick (Allen) calls me and leaves me a voice mail to tell me that it took LaRon 122 attempts to make 100 three-pointers. The guy is just a knock-down shooter."
As a sophomore at American River, Bryant was named First Team All-State after hitting a tremendous 115-of-232 from three-point range, a scorching 49.5%.
Williams is also excited about Jones.
"Nick Jones scores inside and out," Williams said. "He has a real knack for scoring and he seems to be able to score on everybody in our program."
The leading candidate for playing time at the small forward position, or the other wing, is 6-foot-6 redshirt freshman Mark Hull out of Hoover High School in Glendale.
"Mark Hull will play both wings and even some at the four spot in the right situation," began Williams. "Mark is going to be somebody that everyone will love to watch. He is athletic, he plays his rear-end off, he makes people around him better and he plays within himself. He will be a very nice addition."
The Frontcourt: Bigger & Deeper
Like the UCSB backcourt, the team's frontcourt could also be much deeper than a year ago. But unlike the backcourt, the frontcourt is not long on returnees.
The lone returnee from last year's team is 6-foot-8 junior Adama Ndiaye (3.3 PPG, 4.0 RPG and a team-leading 25 blocked shots in 23 games). Ndiaye suffered a lower abdominal injury in December of last year, missed five games and never regained the form he was showing just prior to the injury. He returned this year at about 230 pounds, 22 pounds heavier than he was last season.
"Adama Ndiaye is kind of a new guy," Williams stated. "Last year he was afraid. He was new and he was in his third basketball situation in three years. This is the first time that he's coming back to a program in three years. Plus, he has put on 20-22 pounds and In think those things will help him."
Ndiaye will play both the four and five spots. He will be joined at the five by a duo of redshirts. One, 6-foot-9, 235-pound Mike Vukovich, is a sophomore who played for the Gauchos two seasons ago as a freshman. The other, 6-foot-9, 245-pound Ross Carmichael, is a junior transfer from Texas Tech.
As a freshman, Vukovich averaged 2.8 points and 2.5 rebounds in 23 games. He spent a good portion of the summer at a pair of big man camps and the Gaucho coaching staff hopes to reap the benefits. Carmichael transferred to UCSB in the Winter Quarter last year and will not become eligible until the end of Fall Quarter this year. As a sophomore at Texas Tech, he started 12 games, averaging 3.5 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. He also led the squad in blocked shots with 26.
"I thought last year at times, due to injury, we were pretty thin, especially in the frontcourt," Williams recalled. "This year I really think we have depth. You look at Adama Ndiaye, Mike Vukovich and Ross Carmichael and those guys all play 6-foot-9. Carmichael and Vukovich especially give us big, physical players at the five. They can throw it around a little bit."
Ndiaye will also be a candidate for playing time at the four spot. He will be joined by junior Juliano Jordani, a transfer from the College of Southern Idaho and redshirt freshman Eric Hare, out of McKinney High School in McKinney, Texas.
"Juliano Jordani, Eric Hare and Adama give us depth at the four spot," Williams predicted. "Mark Hull can also play there in certain situations. But again, we are big and strong with some versatility at the four."
While Jordani and Hare stand 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-5 respectively, they check in at 235 and 230 pounds. Williams hopes that Jordani in particular can fill the offensive shoes of Bunton and Merrill. He was an outstanding three-point shooter at the junior college level, hitting 48.3% as a freshman. Last year an ankle injury limited him to 31.0%, but Williams thinks he has the tools to improve on that.
"All of our reports tell us that Jordani is just the perfect player for us," he said. "He's tough, he shoots the ball well, he scores down low, he defends. He is a tough and physical guy, but just as importantly, he is a long-range shooter at the four spot, which we need."
Offense Via The Defense
The Gauchos will call on a bevy of newcomers and a host of returnees to pick up the slack for the departed offensive stalwarts Bunton and Merrill, but Williams expects there to be other ways of making up the difference.
"We are going to be a better defensive team," he assured. "Even though we were okay defensively last year, we're going to have to be much tougher defensively this year. We will have to create more steals and generate more offense from the defensive end. We're pretty good if we get a steal and can get into the open court. We have good open court speed and we are good in transition. We are going to have to create more of those situations this year."
If UCSB can muster more steals this season, it would mean a new school record. Last year, the Gauchos picked opponents pockets a school-record 236 times. Five players had 24 or more steals and three had 38 or more. Allen led the team with 68 and actually tied the school record with eight in a win over UC Irvine.
Santa Barbara opens the regular season with a November 20 home game against the defending Pac Ten Champion Stanford Cardinal. It will one of the most important games for the program in many years.
The Stanford matchup is just one of several good games on what is one of the Gauchos' best schedules in years. In addition to playing the Cardinal at home, UCSB will take on another Pac Ten school, USC, on the road (December 1). They will play two games against the newly formed Mountain West Conference (vs. BYU at the Thunderdome on December 29 and at San Diego State on December 22), one game against a Western Athletic Conference foe (November 24 at San Jose State) and four games against the always tough West Coast Conference (At the Thunderdome against Pepperdine on December 11 and St. Mary's on January 8 and on the road at USF on November 28 and St. Mary's on January 8).
The Big West schedule will once again consist of home-and-home meetings against five Western Division opponents plus a trio of home games and a trio of road games against Eastern Division teams.