Wednesday, September 3, 2014

UCSB 2014 - 2015 Season Preview By Men's Basketball Head Coach Bob Williams

This is Coach Bob Williams' preseason preview of the 2014 - 2015 UCSB men's basketball team. 


Alan Williams had a great offseason.  He was dedicated in improving his body, worked on his skills, conditioning, and ball-handling.  He's better off the dribble, attacking with his face up game (vs. "butt-ball"), he's quicker, and more consistent defensively with both team and individual defense.  He knows it is crucial that he stays out of foul trouble so he is working on getting better position in the lane.  Last year, when Al was in foul trouble, the UCSB defense ranked near the bottom of the Big West.   When Al was NOT in foul trouble, the UCSB defense was among the best in the Big West.  What's overlooked about Al is he is a really good defender, he's smart, and has great feet.  While Al is great at creating space in the lane, he occasionally doesn't do it and ends up shooting a fade away jumper, for instance.  He developed a solid mid-range jumper last year, and has continued to improve on it.

Sam Beeler had a real wake up at the end of last season, when he faded down the stretch.  He has raised his commitment level to the game this summer.  He is bigger, stronger, more active, and more physical.  Sam performed well when Al was out last season, but he needs to be more of a factor when Al is healthy.  Sam has improved his mid-range jumper.  Last year in practice, he won numerous free throw competitions.  The contest rules were if a shooter hit the rim, he was eliminated.  Not only did the shooter have to make the free throw, he had to swish it.  Sam won several of them.  He needs to improve his confidence in order to shoot that way during games.  Coach Kevin Bromley is working on Sam with his shot.

Mitch Brewe is improved, and displaying standard growth.  He has a great work ethic, but needs to gain patience with himself, because he is so hard on himself.  Last season, he would allow one mistake to take him out of the game for two or three minutes.  His 3-point shooting needs to improve on the road, matching his high percentages at home.  He has to create a better comfort zone during away games.  He also needs to create more space on rebounding, not just jumping for the ball.  He needs to learn to rebound in front of him, not above him.  He is 6'7", has short arms, and doesn't jump very high, so he needs to create space on rebounds.  Creating space means using your lower body, arms, shoulders, core--essentially your whole body to gain positional advantage for rebounding opportunities and posting up.  Mitch is really tough, and has great instincts.

John Green has to find a way to stay healthy.  He is a major impact player, and can play the 3 and 4 on defense, but his is so skilled offensively that he can play the 2, 3, and 4.  He can bounce the ball,  drive, shoot it, post up, and pass it--he is very skilled.  Both his wrist and feet are healthy.  Keeping him healthy requires changing his workouts.  He undergoes physical therapy to change how his feet land and to keep his hips straight.  Instead of jumping rope or running, he's on the elliptical, the stationary bike, and in the pool.  They have backed off on his work outs, and will limit his minutes in a 3-game tournament.

Alex Hart's minutes are up in air.  He's definitely 6'10", and shoots it very deep.  He'll hit 5 or 6 in a row, and can change a game.  But he has to be more physical and aggressive.  He needs to bolster his confidence to adjust to the physicality of Div. 1 basketball.  He has improved so much from last year, so the redshirting was best for him--by far.

Ami Lakoju has improved already during his short time since arriving, proving his high motivation.  He's very coachable, has an unbelievable body at 6'8" and 260 pounds with long arms.  He has great quickness, can defend and rebound in the Big West right now.  He is a good 1-on-1 defender, while his rebounding and shot-blocking are already productive.  Offensively, he needs to learn how to use body, and create space to score. 


Michael Bryson had minor knee surgery to repair a smart cartilage tear, so they are controlling his return.  He had a great spring working on ball handling.  Last season, he was more consistent with his shooting, playing inside/outside, became a better defender, and improved his ball handling.  He is working on taking the ball off the bounce.  He is talented, strong, and is the only player who can defend the 2, 3, and 4 positions.  He's still growing and is over 6'5" now, and perhaps why he had knee issues.

The coaches are very pleased with DaJuan Smith and Gabe Vincent, as they are both highly aggressive, and a big upgrade from last year off the bounce.  They make good decisions off the bounce, are good passers, have better shot selection, and are better defenders.  Defensively, the backcourt is much better, including Zalmico Harmon and Eric Childress, who are also good defenders.

This may be the first defense since the team of Justin Joiner, Paul Roemer, and Jordan Weiner who can apply on-ball defensive pressure.

Gabe is solid in all aspects, and is as polished as any young player at UCSB since Branduin Fullove, who wasn't rattled as a freshman (Fullove may have been a more versatile scorer).  DaJuan is very good, plays hard, and a defensive stopper.  He excels off the dribble, in transition, in the open court, and is good at the rim.  He's crafty, makes good decisions,  and will play the wing.

At point guard, UCSB has never been better or as deep since Coach Williams has been at UCSB.  They are so much better off the dribble this year.  Last year, only point guards or occasionally Boswell could use on-ball screens, because the wings were turning the ball over too often.  This year, the 1, 2, and 3 positions will be able to utilize on-ball screens.

The team is committing fewer turnovers on ball screens, and hence are much more productive this season so far.  Production is tracked in practice and high turnovers--whether off ball screens, or post entries, and the numbers will determine whether a player will feature on-ball screens.

Magic Johnson was a high turnover guy, but was a big scorer and dished out many assists so his high production more than compensated for his high turnovers.  Perimeter ball handlers get in trouble during on-ball screens when defenders hedge or trap the ball, resulting in turnovers  The dribbler may try to split the trap unsuccessfully.   Or he may try to force in a pocket pass on the pick-and-roll that has closed.  A successful on-ball screen requires the dribbler to make the correct read, and have the skill set to execute the vision.  It may require extending the ball, enlarging the pocket to the rolling teammate, or splitting the trap correctly.

TJ Taylor is 100% healthy, is much more aggressive, and being pushed by Zalmico and Eric.  He knows he needs to be more physical, but he has good knowledge of the offense, passes the ball well and is a very good shooter.

Zalmico has improved from when he was a game-changer in the second half of last season.  Eric is  much better, more confident, and trusts the coaching staff more.  He doesn't get caught in the air as much, so his turnovers should be reduced.  Occasionally, Z will slide to the 2 defensively when UCSB plays small ball, with a wing at the 3, and Bryson at the 4.

Justin Burks will probably redshirt.  He is so gifted physically, is athletic, shoots well, and has a lot of length.

Generally speaking, the team is more physical this year than last season, and they were pretty physical in 2013 - 2014.  Bryson and Green are very physical for their size.

Between Hart, Vincent, Lakoju, and Burks, this has been Coach Williams' best freshman class since he can remember. 

Even though we lose Kyle Boswell and Taran Brown, we should have one of the best 3-point shooting teams in a while.  Bryson, Green, Brewe, Hart, Vincent, Smith, Taylor, and Harmon are all 3-point threats.  A point of emphasis will be quality of shots, finding the open man, and making the extra pass.

There will be more transition offense off the defensive pressure, but the Gauchos can also play really big.  They will have a bigger physical presence, but more importantly, they play physically instinctively, and don't need the coaches to force them to do it.

The Big West is bigger in the paint this year, and UCSB will be able to match that size, with guys like Lakoju.

Overall, this team is very competitive and deep this year--as deep as Coach Williams' fifth year at UCSB.  At the 5, behind Al Williams are Sam Beeler and Ami Lakoju.  Mitch Brewe is backed by John Green and Alex Hart.  Michael Bryson anchors the 3, but Green can play there as well.  Gabe Vincent and DaJuan Smith will battle for court minutes at the 2, while the 1 is solid with Zalmico Harmon, Eric Childress, and TJ Taylor.

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