Change is a comin’ to the men’s basketball team. New faces are the status quo on Sam Williams Court. New personnel make up much of the roster as only four players return to the squad that finished the 2014-15 cycle as Broncs.
It’s safe to say there might be a break in the continuity, but that’s probably a good thing.
A year ago, the WAC season was turbulent, with four wins coming in 14 tries. The wins were sandwiched between a pair of three-game losing streaks and one four-game skid.
A season ago the team allowed 34.3 points in the first half, while only scoring 28.2, the deficit was often too much to come back from.
Despite losing their top scorer from a season ago, Janari Joesaar, as well as starting point guard, Shaq Boga, Coach Dan Hipsher believes that this team is more balanced and emphasizes the team aspect of basketball. Many additions to the lineup include transfers and men with experience playing college ball.
“It’s nice because the veteran kids, like fifth-year J.J. [Thompson] and Dakota [Slaughter], they’ve also got size, strength and maturity,” the 38-year veteran bench boss said. “They’ve been in the fire before, they’ve been in tough competition. They’ve been in high-quality competing places.”
Much of Hipsher’s excitement came from the speed that he has noticed watching his team in practice, a trait that he said can help on both offense and the defensive side of the ball.
“This is the first time really we’ve had a more balanced program in terms of size and strength and speed,” he said. “We have a lot more balance and we have less ball stoppage. We have better ball movement, more team movement.”
One of those players that are new to the program but not new to the Division 1 hoops is Slaughter. The 6-foot-7-inch graduate student who plays forward spent his previous years at the University of Alabama, where he played under Hipsher, who served as an associate head coach with the Crimson Tide.
Slaughter’s last year of college basketball will be spent as a Vaquero and he is ready for the chance to impress.
“It’s always great to have another opportunity to play college basketball. This is one of the best times of your life,” the Fishers, Ind., native and former SEC academic honor roll member said. “You try to go ahead and work those kinks out [in practice] and hit the ground running. To be honest, though, it never works out that way. These first few games are going to be a little bit rough but the idea is you want to be hitting your stride come February and March when conference play starts. It’s not to say these first games are not important but things will change throughout the year and you got to worksome things out.”
There is a veteran presence, however, who has been a part of the same program his whole career. This player should not be overlooked when listing important cogs of the men’s program.
Shaq Hines, a senior in his fourth year on the team, has been through both a coaching and a name change in his time with the program. That’s not what’s on his mind though. Hines sees a talented team that he has a responsibility to lead.
“I’m more a lead-by-example type of leader. Of course, I get vocal sometimes, but that’s not really what I do,” said Hines, the 6-foot-8-inch Chicago native. “If you wanna know what to do, just try to look at me and see what I do.”
In his junior season Hines averaged 12.6 points per game and also led UTPA in field goal percentage. But this year he’s focused on the team he will work with the whole season.
“It’s probably the biggest we’ve ever been, with size, we have big men all around the floor,” he said. “We’re just more talented than the past couple of years. We’re just a better team defensively, I think.”
The size he speaks of could help contribute to an overall improvement on the backboards. The team was out-
rebounded by a four-rebound-per-game margin, and their opponents’ shooting percentage was 44.
Only real action will show the differences between this group and last year’s squad plays. The team that at first glance seems to have major areas of improvement will have the chance to test their game in action soon.
The Vaqueros will take their show on the road Friday and Nov. 16 to Florida against Miami University and the University of North Florida respectively. The home opener is set for Nov. 20 against Texas A&M University Kingsville.