DENVER — The third session of the Western Athletic Conference basketball media day might have been the best one of the day. One Utah Valley coach revealed how many pairs of crocs he owns. Another coach showed off a side of him that many fans, especially New Mexico State fans, might be surprised to see. And another coach is using a Coach Carter-esque method to make sure his players take their academics seriously.
The final session was entertaining but also very informative. Here are some thoughts.
Injuries, Academics Key for Seattle Men
For men’s head coach Jim Hayford, 2018-19 was a nightmare. His Redhawks finished the non-conference 12-3 and it looked like all was well heading into conference play. However, injuries derailed a once promising season, Seattle got off to an 1-6 start in WAC play and despite winning five of six to close out the regular season, it just wasn’t the season Hayford and the Redhawks envisioned.
However, Seattle is loaded for the 2019-20 season. Hayford returns four starters, including four-year starter Morgan Means.
Hayford believes that Seattle has one of the best backcourts in the WAC with Means and Terrell Brown.
With all the injuries in 2018-19, Hayford was able to give other guys an opportunity to play. It is something he said that has created a competition for roles heading into the 2019-20 season.
Perhaps it will be the guy who texts him the most each day or the guy who has the highest grade point average that will get more floor time. Hayford is using the old Coach Carter situation with his players relating to their academics. Each day, every player texts him to report in on their day, report that they sat at the front of the class and so forth.
It is part of Hayford’s plan for his players to take their education seriously. And it works. Seattle is among teams honored by National Association of Basketball Coaches at the annual Team Academic Excellence Awards. It means that Seattle, as a team, has a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or higher.
New Faces for SU Women in 2019-20
According to Seattle women’s head coach Suzy Barcomb, 2018-19 was not a Suzy Barcomb-coached team that took the floor in Seattle. Injuries plagued the Redhawk women, which is why Seattle finished with just three wins. The problem now is that, according to Barcomb, she has a whole new team for 2019-20. Outside of senior guard Kamira Sanders and senior post Joana Alves, it might be another long season in the Pacific Northwest.
“For us, we knew we were not that team last year,” Barcomb said. “That was just the effects of the environment impacting how we were playing. That wasn’t a Suzy Barcomb-coached team. It wasn’t who we really are. That wasn’t our true identity.”
Kamira is a preseason All-WAC First Team selection by the Coaches. Alves earned Second Team honors. However, coaches believes Seattle will finish near the bottom of the WAC in the preseason polls. Barcomb acknowledged that the Redhawks have changed up their strength and conditioning a bit to avoid the injury bug.
“We are just lifting a little bit different,” Barcomb said. “We are working on some mechanics in hopes of straightening out anything. I also think the stronger you make them, and when you start tapering them it helps them out. I think we tapered a little too soon last fall.”
Crocs, Stud Point Guard Keys for New Utah Valley HC
When new Utah Valley head coach Mark Madsen took the stage on Wednesday, there was some disappointment from the media. Madsen decided to put on his dress shoes rather than wear his well-known Crocs for his press conference. However, Madsen did admit he owns 10 pairs of Crocs and loves them.
Madsen spoke about the depth he sees in his roster despite it having 11 new faces and only returning two players who played significant minutes in 2018-19. Madsen believes his roster has a lot of firepower.
One thing that Madsen does have going for him, is a very good point guard in Brandon Averette. Madsen says that Averette is a true professional both on and off the court.
“Here’s a guy who’s in the gym constantly,” Madsen said. “Working on his shooting, working on his passing. And by the way, he’s a great shooter already. He’s a great passer already. But he’s in there constantly working on his craft, trying to get better. Academics, he’s getting it done in the classroom. He performs at a high level academically. He’s a vocal leader right now and he’s becoming even more vocal as everyday passes.”
Utah Valley will need that leadership as the Wolverines face a difficult non-conference schedule that features a trip to Lexington to face top-ranked Kentucky in November.
Enthusiasm, Late-Night Texts Lead to Enjoyment for Nielson
On the women’s side, Utah Valley got the hire right with Dan Nielson. The former BYU Associate Head Coach is bringing a ton of enthusiasm and energy just down the street from his former employer. From texting an assistant coach late at night just to bug her, to playing dad jokes that upset his kids, Nielson has the energy to change the culture for the Utah Valley women. Perhaps the nicest surprise has as a head coach is no more late night phone calls from his boss. Apparently, while at BYU, Nielson would get calls late at night from BYU head coach Jeff Judkins asking Nielson to get some things done. It is something Nielson loves about being a head coach.
Perhaps the best news for Nielson and Utah Valley is that he returns all five starters from the 2018-19 season. Preseason First-Team All-WAC selection Jordan Holland highlights the roster. Plus, Nielson was able to persuade center Josie Williams to stay in Orem.
Look for the Wolverines to play more man-to-man defense under Nielson. This will be a huge change considering over the last two seasons under Cathy Nixon, UVU played zone about 95 percent of the time.
Learning Curve for Grand Canyon Women
With eight newcomers, Grand Canyon women’s coach Nicole Powell didn’t mince words acknowledging that there will be a large learning curve in Phoenix. However, Powell said that she recruited winners who know how to play and know how to win.
It is Powell’s third season at Grand Canyon. The ‘Lopes finished 16-14 overall in Powell’s first season and just 7-20 in her second season. The bad news: WAC coaches are expecting the ‘Lopes to one again finish near the bottom of the conference standings in 2019-20.
However, Powell’s approach is for her team to get better everyday. The former WNBA player wants her team to be playing their best basketball in February and March. With a difficult non-conference schedule and understanding that there is a large learning curve, she just wants her team to focus on the process of getting better each day.
Majerle is a Comedian, Excited for 2019-20
Apparently Dan Majerle likes to joke around with the media. With a not-so-normal Dan Majerle swag in a pair of skateboard, flat-bottomed sneakers, the Grand Canyon men’s head coach took the stage on Wednesday afternoon.
Perhaps it is the fact that he returns Carlos Johnson, Alessandro Lever and Oscar Frayer. Or maybe it is the fact that Lever is in the best shape of his life. It quite possibly could be the fact that Grand Canyon is deep at the point guard spot and might be even deeper if TCU transfer Jaylen Fisher receives a waiver.
Whatever it was, Majerle was completely opposite of what he looks like when roaming the sidelines of games.
The ‘Lopes will run nearly everything through Johnson, who is a preseason First-Team All-WAC selection by the media and the coaches. It will surprise noone if Oscar Frayer has a big season in his final year in Phoenix. Other names to pay attention to are freshman Jovan Blacksher, who Majerle is really high on. Isiah Brown is another name as is St. John’s transfer Mikey Dixon, who can’t take the floor until January.
Grand Canyon features a ton of guards in 2019-20 in comparison to being one of the bigger teams in the WAC in 2018-19.
Of note for Grand Canyon is that the ‘Lopes have a home-and-home series agreement with both San Diego State and New Mexico. The ‘Lopes will head to San Diego and Albuquerque in 2019-20 with the Aztecs and Lobos returning to Phoenix in 2020-21.