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Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Team preview: Texas State

Blue Ribbon Yearbook

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2011-12 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.

COACH AND PROGRAM

Doug Davalos was a happy guy. After spending days and perhaps weeks trying to figure out where his players were going to live on campus, what meal plans they preferred and which classes they would take, he finally had a chance to talk some basketball. And even if the discussion took a little longer than he thought it might, he was grateful.

"After all that other stuff, this was a respite," he said.

Davalos was paying so much attention to the administrative portion of his job because his Bobcats have seven new faces. It's not quite what they're facing at Stephen F. Austin, which has nine fresh conscripts, but that's what happens when you lose your top four and five of your top six leading scorers from the previous season. For a program that has improved its win total by one game each of the past three seasons, that kind of turnover can impede progress -- unless you speak to Davalos.

"Everything is relative," he said. "You can't get caught up in who you lost. If you look at everyone around the league, every three years, there is a mass exodus. I like our recruiting class. I think it's the best in the league, and all seven will be real good players in our program. I'm excited about it."

There is a lot to be excited about in San Marcos these days, beginning with the school's move to the Western Athletic Conference next year. The Bobcats are abandoning their FCS football personality and taking a step up in class. And because they'll be playing against improved competition on the hardwood, too -- like Utah State -- they need to get better there, also.

PLAYERS

Take a look at the crop of newcomers, and you'll see bigger, more solid players. The goal is to create a team capable of hanging with the WAC's squads, which usually have better depth and size than Southland Conference schools. Give that each of the four frontcourt newcomers in the crop is at least 6-7, 230, Davalos has absolutely accomplished that goal. Throw in 6-9, 225-pound redshirt freshman Nick Hinton, and the Bobcats will have some serious heft when they head to the WAC.

But it's not all about the newcomers. The Bobcats have some players returning who are expected to make big contributions, beginning with 6-0, 190-pound senior guard Eddie Rios (9.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 1.0 spg). Rios has played both guard spots and needs to become a more complete player to make his final year at Texas State a strong one.

"It's about him taking a leadership role in the program," Davalos said. "I played him some at the point and the two last year, but a lot of Eddie's development centers on intangibles, like leadership and willingness to defend.

"He's a good offensive player. Offense is not a problem with Eddie. He has to become a more consistent defender. And he has to get back to having a point guard mentality."

Rios was a part-time starter last year, but 6-4, 202-pound senior guard John Bowman (5.5 ppg, 2.2 rpg) was a regular for every game, despite statistics that might lead some to wonder why he was on the floor so often. Davalos has no question about that.

"Every year, our best guard defender is going to start," he said. "Brown has been one of the guys capable of being our best on-ball defender, and he takes pride in his defense. His points per game went down last year, but he was more productive overall. His assist-to-turnover ratio improved, and his field goal percentage improved."

The Bobcats may have imported some big fellas, but their backcourt will be pretty deep, too -- beyond Rios and Bowman. Travis Jones (7.5 ppg, 2.9 rpg, .358 3PT), a 6-5 senior, has good catch-and-shoot instincts and showed the ability to defend, which is rare in a JC newcomer. Now, Jones has to take the next step and become more of an all-around offensive threat.

"He has to be a guy who knows how to get to the foul line," Davalos said. "The second thing he has to do is become a better rebounder."

Jones has the potential to be on the court a lot this year, especially because he made more three-pointers last year (49) than any other Texas State player.

Those three will get some time, but the new faces will play roles, too. Davalos is high on 5-11 junior Travonn Jones (Lamar [PA] State/Hartland HS/Hartland, Mich.), who can play the point and has the explosiveness to handle time at the two. And the coach refers to 6-0 freshman Deron Belford (Kerrville Tivy HS/Kerrville, Texas) as "the best defensive guard I've ever recruited." Belford isn't flashy, but he can run the point, and Davalos marvels at the time he saw Belford "take four charges in a summer AAU game."

Another freshman, 6-3, 185-pound Wesley Davis (Mansfield Summit HS/Arlington, Texas) is another one-of-a-kind type for Davalos.

"We haven't had a two guard like him," he said. "He's athletic, can shoot the ball and has a mid-range game, which I love. He can also dunk on you. He could challenge for the two guard spot. The question his how quickly he will adjust to the college game, and will he have the motor to challenge Bowman every day in practice."

Rounding out the backcourt crew is 5-11 junior guard Jordan Kirschke, who scored two points in four appearances last year.

If Tony Bishop and Cameron Johnson were not on the roster last year, Davalos is convinced 6-10, 220-pound junior Matt Staff (4.7 ppg, 3.0 rpg) would have seen more time than the 13.3 minutes he averaged last season. Expect him to have a bigger role this time around.

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"Matt has worked on getting stronger and more physical," Davalos said. "He is very skilled, can shoot the three and block shots off the ball. He can be a nightmare on the pick-and-pop."

While Travis Jones appears to have an early line on the third guard/small forward spot, Davalos doesn't want anybody to rule out 6-5, 195-pound senior Brooks Ybarra (3.2 ppg, 1.6 rpg) who has gone from walk-on to scout team standout to outstanding defender to someone ready for a shot at starting work.

One person Davalos expects to see in the starting lineup is 6-7, 235-pound junior college import Corey Stern (Howard JC/Rainer Beach HS/Seattle, Wash.).

"If Corey is not starting at the four spot, then he has done something ridiculous," Davalos said. "That's how much we think of him."

Stern can play either forward position, handles the ball well, plays good defense and can score inside or out.

Davalos isn't expecting 6-8, 240-pound junior Gordon Ball (Lamar [PA] State College/Port Arthur HS/Houston, Texas) to be an automatic starter, but he would like the talented four man to see plenty of time. The biggest question with him is conditioning. Can he get into dynamite game shape?

"He can score the ball," Davalos said. "He can go out and shoot the three. He can rebound, and he can seal guys off inside and get rebounds. He finishes plays."

A pair of freshmen will fight for time inside. Luke Mergerson (Duncanville HS/Duncanville, Texas) is a 6-8, 240-pounder with plenty of potential.

"If he wants to be an outstanding basketball player and sets his mind to it, and his work ethic is unreal, he can help us win," Davalos said.

Mergerson has low-post skills and can even step out and shoot.

Dante Bachus (Sam Houston HS/Houston, Texas) goes 6-7, 230 and has plenty of skill and a high motor.

"He fits the prototypical four in our system," Davalos said. "He can shoot the ball with range and is an outstanding shot blocker. He's a blue-collar worker with outstanding athletic ability. He could be a three-year starter in our program."

Redshirt freshman Nick Hinton (Wakeland HS/Frisco, Texas) will slide his 6-9, 225-pound frame between the four and five spots, while Davalos describes 6-6, 195-pound redshirt freshman Basil Brown (Richardson Berkner HS/Dallas, Texas) as "intriguing." Brown hasn't played a game in almost two years. "He was an outstanding practice player who can really defend," Davalos said. "He has to be a better rebounder than he has shown."

Reid Koenen (1.0 ppg, 0.4 rpg), a 6-7, 200-pound sophomore, is the final piece of the frontcourt puzzle.

BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS

BACKCOURT: B-
BENCH/DEPTH: B-
FRONTCOURT: B
INTANGIBLES: B

The Bobcats have made some good strides toward their WAC membership with this recruiting class and have the makings of a roster that should be fairly representative next year, particularly if they can back it up with another solid group. Davalos is wise to bulk up his frontcourt, and the arrivals of Stern, Bachus and Mergerson show that he means business.

Those three, along with Hinton and Ybarra, should provide the Bobcats with necessary interior heft in the Southland this season. Expect Stern to make an immediate impact, and if the others are able to work hard, Texas State will be formidable in a league where having a bunch of 6-8, 235-pounders is not the norm.

The backcourt has potential, too, although Rios must decide he wants to play the point primarily, the better to give Belford the chance to ease his way into the lineup. Bowman and Ybarra will provide defense on the wing, while Davis has the potential to be a big scorer.

Last year, the Bobcats were the West Division co-champions, and there is reason to believe they'll be right up there again. As Texas State prepares for life in the WAC, it is well positioned today and should be in even better shape tomorrow.

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2011-12 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.