Oregon State’s depth at the guard positions and the resulting competitiveness began to materialize in pickup games this summer.
The men’s basketball team addressed its lack of a bench in the offseason by adding four freshmen who are competing for playing time at the guard spots this coming season.
In those summer games at the OSU Basketball Center, defense kicked up a notch. Game-deciding points were not scored easily.
The players say that fight has begun to carry over to practices, which began last week. There will be only so much floor time to go around once the games start for real in about a month.
“It makes everybody play hard. The competition level is high,” said junior guard Stevie Thompson.
Zach Reichle, Xavier Smith and Ethan Thompson are the newcomers at guard. Alfred Hollins is listed at forward but has played multiple positions.
OSU coach Wayne Tinkle said he’s been “pleasantly surprised” by the progress of the first-year players since they arrived this summer. That time included 10 practices on campus and then four games in Spain.
“We’re excited about that, excited about the improvements the veteran guards have made, specifically JaQuori (McLaughlin) and Kendal (Manuel) and Stevie (Thompson) as well.
“We feel like we have a very good group there. The nice thing is the way we’re a little banged up – if we have to go small we have a lot of depth where last year we had to go small but we had no depth. So it should be a strength of ours, hopefully.”
McLaughlin rolled an ankle and wasn’t able to fully practice Tuesday. Sophomore forward Ben Kone had a procedure last week on his left knee, the same one he injured seriously as a high school senior. Tinkle hopes he can return in mid- to late November. Senior post Cheikh N’diaye remains sidelined with a shoulder injury.
Manuel and McLaughlin gained their first experiences of Division I basketball playing extensive minutes last winter after the program lost two veteran guards in the offseason.
Both talked before Tuesday’s practice about having tired legs and bodies at the end of games and as the 5-27 campaign headed for a close.
Barring a string of injuries, that won’t be the situation again.
“This year, having that depth, we’ll be able to rotate a lot of guys in and be fresh and pressure the ball and play full-court, up-tempo like coach Tinkle wants us to play,” Manuel said.
Manuel and McLaughlin were praised by teammates as well for the strides they’ve made in the offseason. Each had strong stretches in Spain, bolstering Tinkle’s belief that this team could have the most depth of any since he was hired in May 2014.
“They’ve always been good at catch and shoot. Now they’re getting more aggressive and driving to the basket, sharing the ball, things like that,” Stevie Thompson said.
Added Manuel: “JaQuori, he’s done a good job of becoming more vocal out there, controlling the offense, becoming a leader out there, too. And that’s exactly what we need out of him, especially coming into his second year, controlling the offense, we need a big year out of him. He’s doing a good job so far.”
The Beavers open the regular season with a Nov. 10 home game against Southern Utah, a week after hosting Pacific in an exhibition contest.
Tinkle doesn’t expect the guard depth to show its full potential until the players have time to jell with “some games under their belt.”
Ethan Thompson, ranked as high as 24th in national player rankings last season, said it’s fun to go to practice and see everyone pushing each other.
“It’s very competitive. It’s actually picked up the last couple days,” he said. “A lot of people going at it. I think it’s good for our team … and we should carry that over to the season.”