After two years of recruiting and adjusting to a new, fast-paced offense, the Occidental men’s basketball team is finally ready to run. Despite the loss of last season’s leading scorer, Kris Montoya ’14, the team will still sport a roster of 10 guards, five of which played at least 17 minutes per game last season. This added depth should allow the Tigers to sustain their uptempo offense throughout the entire game.
“Our brand is 40 minutes of full-court press, fast-paced offense and sharing the ball,” head coach Brian Newhall said. “We have a very deep team this year, and because of that, we have a lot of offensive threats and the ability to score a lot of points.”
In the middle of Occidental’s high-octane play will be multidimensional guard Juwan Rice (senior). Rice led the team last season in minutes per game (34.6), steals per game (1.6) and assists per game (2.3) while still managing to average just over 10 points per game.
“In addition to being one of the team leaders, Juwan is also one of the hardest workers on the team,” guard Robby Byrne (sophomore) said. “Before and after practice, even on off-days, he is constantly in the gym, getting up extra shots.”
Also facilitating the Occidental offense will be guards Kory Hamane (junior) and Jay Miller (sophomore). Miller, who was limited to just 13 games last season because of injuries, has a clean bill of health for the start of the season and should be a staple within the Tiger lineup.
The Tigers will also look to guard Spencer Levy (junior) to help fill the offensive void left by Montoya. Levy, who was limited last season by an ankle injury, was the team’s second leading scorer with a 13.7 points per game average, and should be one of Occidental’s biggest three-point threats.
In the front-court, forward Andrew Johnson (sophomore) will be the main target for the Tigers, as he was the team’s third leading scorer last season. He will be joined by newcomer Taylor Walton (first-year), who has established himself as a viable option for the opposite block. While Walton has no official game experience at the collegiate level, the coaching staff has been impressed by what they have seen in practice.
“Walton has been one of our best post players so far this season, showing his ability in both practice and the scrimmage with CSU Dominguez Hills,” Newhall said.
Defensively, the Tigers will utilize their full-court press to create turnovers and overcome their lack of size. Additionally, the Tigers have made it a priority to practice getting stops in their half-court defense and rebounding effectively.
Forwards Andrew Garrison (junior) and JJ Freidman (junior) spent the majority of last season on the bench with injuries, but both are healthy and will provide some much needed length and size to the Tiger defense.
“Coming back from injury and spending another year within the program, I think I can play a bigger role within the team both in terms of defense and offensive rebounding,” Garrison said.
After two years of lackluster win-loss records, going 7–18 in 2012-2013 and 11–14 last season, the Tigers believe they are ready for a breakout season.
The squad’s goal is not just to field a record above .500, but to compete with every team in the conference and make a run at the SCIAC title.
“The SCIAC will be very balanced, with all nine teams able to beat each other on any given night,” Newhall said. “But maximizing our potential and fighting into the SCIAC tournament are two clear-cut goals for the upcoming season.”
Occidental will open regular season play at 7 p.m. this Saturday at Caltech.