Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Mitchell's Dominant Week Leads To Player Of The Week Honors

Marin's Career Day Leads to Player of the Week Nod

Four Gauchos Register Double Figures in Overtime Win Against Wolf Pack

Newcomers Shine as Gauchos Down Banana Slugs

Men's Basketball Set For Big Road Test Against Lobos

Mitchell, Pierre-Louis Lead Gauchos Over Lumberjacks



Thursday, November 23, 2023

Interview with Women's Volleyball Coach Matt Jones

Gaucho Hoops (“GH”):  Why don’t we start with this year’s team vs maybe last year’s team, provide some color for this year’s squad vs. last year.  Roster make up, philosophy…I know you guys play fast.  Nicole was emphasizing that, and I guess you guys are the same this year.  You guys are a little taller this year.

Matt Jones (“MJ”):  We still play a pretty fast style.  We play really fast with pins, we want our middles up.  What we call zero tempo.  Basically up before the ball is in the setter’s hands.  So none of those things have changed.  We’re using the back row attack a little more.  So that’s a slight difference.

GH:  Are they a little more athletic this year?

MJ:  It’s the same players as last year…we just rep it more.  We practice it more, put more time into it, and they’re also a year older. So they’re just more experienced and better at it.  Both the rotation outsides are seniors.  So they’ve been in our system a long time, and they know what to do.  

As far as the starting line up, it’s fairly similar.  We’ve got a new middle in Grace Wuischpard, who’s a sophomore.  She was here last year.  Two new middles in the starting lineup.  Andi Kreiling is a transfer from Arizona State.  Grace is a true sophomore.  She has a year in our system, and has gotten a ton  in her timing, and is doing great stuff for us.

And then on the right side, another sophomore is Sophie Reavis.  She stepped in for Tallulah who played last year.  She’s doing a nice job, playing really smart, making good decisions.  And the second setter spot, with Mehana Ma’a and Megan Shimoda graduating, and Grace McIntosh is our only returning setter, we have 2 new setters in the other spot.  We have a freshman in Milan, and a junior transfer in Michelle Zhao.  So they’ve been competing for that second spot.  We haven’t made any changes in the line up yet.  We have a big freshman class, but most of them aren’t currently rotating in the lineup.  Some will likely redshirt.  It’s an adjustment to play in our system.  The speed of our offense is a big adjustment, so it takes them a year to learn the system, and so when some of these seniors graduate, they’ll be competing to fill those spots.

GH:  Is your style of play common in high school, or in the circuit?

MJ:  There are some places that play this fast in high school.  Like SC Elite just down the road plays pretty quickly.  San Gabriel…so there are high schools that do it, but even some of the ones that go fast, they may not do it if it’s a little bit off the net, or out of system, but we keep a pretty good pace off the net.  Obviously there’s a time and place for us to set higher out of system balls, but we try to keep a pretty good tempo to about 15 feet off the net, and even collegiately, a lot of top programs are going fast now, but there are plenty of places that do not play at this speed at the collegiate level.

GH:  Like UT, right?  They’ve got a monster front line.

MJ:  Yeah, like them…or even in our conference there are some places that don’t outs fast, just different styles by different coaches, different personnel groups.

GH:  Is it based on the height of the personnel?

MJ:  No, we recruit…we’re looking for…a lot of it has to do with arm swing, and the ability to adjust arm swing on the ball.  So we’re definitely trying to recruit for it.

GH:  Like a fast arm swing?

MJ:  Yeah, at the end of the day, internationally, they’re playing super fast, all their pins are 6’2”.  If you’re tall, and you’re dynamic enough to do it, we’d love to recruit you, of course.  So it is not based on the size of the player.  More about how dynamic they are.

GH:  So is the appropriate analogy a baseball pitcher who has a fastball?  Is that the same thing for a woman with a fast arm swing?

MJ:  Yeah, like how fast they can whip their arm through.  It’s similar for sure.  But there’s a slight difference there, because a baseball pitcher has complete control of the ball the whole way.  Some pitchers generate power in a certain way.  Some have hip torque, with a long whip, while some pitchers are just big, strong guys, using their back and chest to generate power in the throw.  It’s similar in volleyball as well.  For us, we’re looking for the few who can create the whip motion quickly.  That’s our ideal hitter in our offense, so they can get their arm through the slot faster.  In baseball, it doesn’t matter how fast your arm comes through.  But when you’re in the slot, you can create power.  The speed and slotting your power through the window is really important.  And catching up to the speed of the set.

GH:  When you say “slotting”, is that like the sweet spot?  Like you want to have perfect contact?  Is that what you mean?

MJ:  Right.  Our dream hitting location for a right hand hitter is slightly right of the shoulder, where she only has to tilt her head slightly with full extension, and slightly in front of their forehead.  That’s the dream window.  But because our offense is fast, we’re going to deal with more sets that aren’t perfect.  And so we have people who can take their arm and put it here and here and here, and put it in different slots in the window quickly.

GH: So that takes a lot of athleticism to adjust in real time.  So can you kinda explain how Nicole said you run different offenses than most teams?  Like the 6-2 and 5-1.

MJ: The 6-2 has two setters that play.  In women’s volleyball, you have 15 substitutions. Every 3 rotations, a right sight comes off the court, and a setter comes in, and vica versa.  So it basically allows us to always have 3 front row hitters, so it makes us a lot harder to stop because 90 - 95% of the teams in the country don’t have a back row attack, but if they do have one, their back row attack is typically much less efficient than their front row attackers.  When you’re defending 5-1 teams, it gives us an advantage, because it’s easier to defend because they have less attackers in and less options, so we can put in more blockers.  It’s easier for us to read and to decide what to defend.  So for us, we’re working to become the lead program in the country.  There are two factors that make it effective:  1) If you’re going to run a 5-1, you need a big physical setter who can block and really run the offense, they have to be a good enough blockers and they have to be threat to dump–to hold your blockers honest, to give the two front hitters freedom, 2) a really elite one-footed attacker, an attacker in the middle who can go behind the setter one one foot to spread the defense

GH:  You don’t see that in men’s volleyball much, right?

MJ:  There are men’s teams now that are using the slide, but you do see it less because men’s use a back row, right side attack.  So if you don’t have a good one foot attacker, and again, they have to be really good, otherwise you are giving something up because, again, it’s easier for us to defend, because there’s only two of them, even if they’re really good at it.  And you have to have a great back row attack.  The mid and the slide, or a backrow attack to keep the offense balanced.  So in the time we’ve been here, basically the kind of setter we’ve been talking about is both an elite setter and elite physical, there just aren’t a ton of those in the country.

GH:  They have to pretty much be an all around player.

MJ:  Yeah, they pretty much have to do everything really well, and they have to be able to set the speed of our offense, which is the most important thing.  And so to have both, realistically right now, those setters are being picked off by the top 15 teams in the country.  So until we’ve broken into that niche, setters are recruited more seriously.  There are a lot of setters in our opinion who are undervalued, just because they aren’t big enough, but they’re great setters, and so for us, we would much rather run a 6-2.  We always have 3 front row attackers, which makes us hard to stop, and in our case, we also have a back row attack, so we actually have 4 attackers ready to go at all times, and our 3 front row attackers are more efficient than if we’re trying to run our middles behind our slide, and we can kinda run our right side, back row attack.  Because the substitutions allow it, and because of our personnel, we have multiple and plenty of good pins, and we have enough good setters to make it work.

GH:  When you said “dump”, is that on 2?

MJ:  Yes.

GH:  I’m not an expert on volleyball, I played with Kathy on the beach in PA class, and she would yell at me <laughs>

MJ:  I’m sure she would.

GH:  “Dude, this is intramurals.”

MJ:  That’s intense, man.  

GH:  It’s a PE class, right?  She still remembers me.

MJ:  She got the best out of you.

GH:  Yep.  She was the #1 player at the time, yet had no hops.  It’s the weirdest thing, it’s different now, of course.  I just like the sport, I always have.  You guys are really good.  It sounds like the level of recruiting is rising.

MJ:  Yeah, we’ll see.  We love this freshman class.  We’ve had multiple good classes in a row.  That’s why we have a good team right now.  We have a chance to build something here.  But we have to continue to get good recruiting classes.  This freshman class is a big class.

GH:  How many?  4?

MJ:  There’s 7.    4 pins, a middle, a setter and a libero.  

GH:  What’s a pin again?

MJ:  A right sider and an outsider.  We think they’ll have a lot of impact for the next few years of this program, but then we have another class coming behind them in 2024, which we’re excited about that class as well.

GH:  Are they signed?

MJ:  Technically, they sign in November, but they’ve all verbally committed.  And 2025, we’re still working on building that class.

GH:  Are you recruiting internationally?  Women’s volleyball is a lot more dispersed.  Men’s volleyball is basically southern California and Penn St. or whatever.

MJ:  Yeah, we recruit internationally.  Because of the academic standards here, it makes it more difficult.  Also, we’re a UC school, because it costs double to go here, in athletic scholarship budgeting, so an out of state scholarship costs twice as much.  So we have a limit right now on how many out of state scholarships we can get.  Because of that limit and academic restrictions, it’s been difficult.  It makes it harder to pick up international kids.  We have to think they will be a 3 or 4 year starter, and they have to meet the academic requirements of the school.  And we’re doing all that, watching video.  Right now, our recruiting budget doesn’t allow us to go overseas to watch kids.  One of my goals is to raise funds to have more out of state scholarships, we want to have recruiting budgets to evaluate more recruits eventually.  But at the end of the day, there’s enough talent in the United States for the right kids.  We talk to international kids on a regular basis.  We had one, a libero when I first got here.  I haven’t had one since.  It’ll happen at some point.

GH:  What about outside of California?  Macall is from San Diego, from Penn St., but are you getting out of state players?

MJ:  Yes, Tasia is from Utah.  Milan is from Washington, DC.  We have Andi from Missouri.  Briana is from Arizona.  

GH:  Another topic being tossed around on the Gaucho message board, beach volley is a mecca here.  I lived in Hermosa for years, where beach volleyball is pretty big in the south bay.  Is UCSB going to sponsor beach volleyball at some point?

MJ:  We hope so.

GH:  Would you be a part of that?

MJ:  If they need it–if there was a way for the indoor team to help, I’m on board for that.  But at the end of the day, adding a sport is financially difficult.

GH:  It would solve Title IX issues, right?  Do you need women’s student-athletes to match males?

MJ:  Right now, the department doesn’t have Title IX issues.  We’re in line.

GH:  That’s right, we don’t have a football team.

MJ:  That’s not an issue for the Athletics department.  We’re in line there.  It’s a budget thing.

GH:  The marketing opportunities would be great.  So would selling beer in the Thunderdome.  Alright, thanks for the interview, Coach.  It’s been very informative. 

Monday, November 13, 2023

UC Santa Barbara Men's Basketball will take on the UTEP Miners

Gauchos Treat Crowd to 87-75 Victory in Home Opener

Gauchos Prepped to Open 2023-24 Season

Gauchos Tabbed to Finish Fourth in Big West Preseason Coaches’ Poll

Gauchos Drop Home Opener To Portland State

UC Santa Barbara Men's Basketball alumnus Orlando Johnson will join the ESPN+ broadcastUC Santa Barbara Men's Basketball alumnus Orlando Johnson will join the ESPN+ broadcast

UC Santa Barbara Men's Basketball will start the season against the Portland State Vikings.

Single game tickets for UC Santa Barbara Men's and Women's Basketball are on sale now.

Gauchos Top Big West Preseason Poll, Mitchell Named to Preseason Team

Sunday, October 1, 2023

UCSB Men's Basketball Practice, 9-27-23

It was a short practice, but highly intense, more fast-paced than I've ever seen a Gauchos team practice.  Not only were the drills intense, but transitioning from drill to drill was very quick.

Ajay looks like a grown man, jacked and with a beard.  Heard from a booster he weighs 205 now, and full of muscle.  He's more vocal now, and even his voice seems deeper. lol
Fontenot is even more muscular, gaining over 10 pounds when I first saw him a couple months ago.  The Gauchos are hitting the weights hard.

The team looks scary good, as in we should dominate teams.  Of course, we won't every game, but I'll give you some context.  That same booster predicted 26 wins last year, and everybody thought he was polyannish, including Pimm.  Well, we got to 27 wins.  This year, he is predicting 30 wins, which is significant given our schedule will be tougher.  I'm not saying we will win 30 games, but I'm also not betting against it either.  Of course, injuries can also play a role, so predictions are inherently dangerous.  But the donor did say this is the best team the Gauchos have assembled.  Some fans may point to the great teams Pimm had in the late 80's, and the much more potent BW conference.  We will see.

The consensus is KKT will take a medical redshirt, with one dissenter.  I'll leave that up to you to figure out who that person is.  lol

I won't comment on other rumors of injuries, but we should have a strong squad with depth, regardless.

Our bigs (Traore, Belic, Kipruto and Oakman) are all fast, and are athletic, with Traore immovable in the post.  Belic looks much more confident and composed, as his Euro experience this summer has obviously paid off.   Our perimeter players are experienced, and a year stronger and better.  JPL and Ajay really worked on their jumpshots,  releasing the ball without using the pinky finger.  My guess is that they verticalized their shooting elbow too.  Both jumpers looked more efficient with fewer moving parts.  Also starting higher in the cocked position rather than starting below was an emphasis.

We are better at every position except at the 4, and that's only because Miles is an NBA talent.  Having said that, Belic will be one of the most improved players.  Every other player in the starting lineup is either a year better or they are new (Traore).  Starting lineup right now looks like Ajay, Traore, JPL, Cole, and Belic.  Here's the thing:  Fontenot is already Div 1 ready.  He can drive, shoot, rebound and defend.  Expect 20 mpg if he continues to develop.

All the players are high character kids, including those further away from home, including JPL.

One thing I noticed--these kids are courageous.  I don't know who has more fortitude, the walk ons who were beat up, or the rotation players being the aggressors.  Unlike previous practices, the first and second teams did not take mercy on the scout teams.  They all get along on and off the court, but my god, there was no letting up on defense, if you were on-ball or denying the pass.  As much as us fans like to see buckets, watching this team defend will be a treat.  Defending was not just a slogan, our wings were very aggressive, and so was Ajay.  I guess JPL is rubbing off on all his teammates.  I've watched more than a few practices over the years, and this team is different.  There's a certain vibe about them, like they are carnivorous.  I don't know, I guess we will see.

Jazzman came in as the biggest kid on the block, but in his brief time here, he is acclimating to the culture of stepping up, no matter what physical presence you have.  If he bulks up, he will be a monster, cuz he already runs like a deer  Traore--he's already a monster.  Like I said last time, if he gets the ball in the post, it's an automatic bucket and/or free throws.

Anyway, I have a feeling LB fans feel the same way about their frontcourt, as they will also be improved from last year.  UCI keeps getting raw post players who develop into solid BW stars, and lately, their backcourt players are also good.  If I were to guess, I could see 26 games again, but against tougher competition, and hopefully, a win in the big dance.  We had a shot at Baylor, and look at what SDSU and FAU did last season.  One can dream, right?

I also chatted briefly with Coach Howland.  The guy is a gym rat, very focused while watching the practice.  He's very high on Traore and Fontenot also.  So there you have it, coming from someone who kinda knows the game.  lol  Also had a great chat with Gerry Fall.  He will be doing the play by play for MBB again.  I hope to interview him next week.

UCSB Women's Basketball Practice Notes, 9-27-23

Overall, the losses of Ila and Alexis Tucker to Cal and FSU, respectively, will hurt the post positions.  We will definitely be more perimeter-oriented, driving and dishing to the open 3 either strong side or weak side.  Just from observing, Alexis Whitfield, has a ton of upside, as she's the fastest player among the bigs by far, and she's got a mean crossover.  Just overall, super athletic and explosive, yet her numbers so far haven't indicated that potential.  She's a senior this year, and with the other two post players gone, this could be her breakout season, as long as she remains focused and consistent.

Jessica Grant is firing on all cylinders again with the 3 point shot, and her team won 90% of the shooting competitions.  Kanani Coon also has a sweet jumper, but I'm not sure if she is in the rotation.  Marin, Burke, Grant could be the starters on the perimeter, which means we will be small.  Anya Choice just seems too athletic to not start, so I'm not sure what the starting backcourt will look like.  The frontcourt is not fixed either, altho the experienced players will probably have a leg up with the system.

The perimeter game will be much more emphasized, but the Gaucho ladies still need to finish inside and defend the paint.  Coach Bonnie Hendrickson will earn her stripes this season.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

June 29 Practice Notes


The day camp for kids was finishing up before the 4 newcomers started a quick practice session.  The returnees have a break until July 10.  They will travel to Vancouver later this summer to play exhibitions and will get 10 extra days of practice for team-bonding, etc.

My non-expert observations which hopefully don't reveal any "trade secrets":

Oakman can shoot, which was a nice surprise, as he has a reputation for being a defensive stopper in the lane, with limited offense.  One insider said he made 15 consecutive free throws the day before.  His form is good.  The consensus among observers was he is much better than expected.  He is 7'0" and 225 lbs, so he will need to gain 20 lbs of muscle to compete at the Div. 1 level.  This will add toughness to his game.  He's got good footwork and has soft hands, so he can be coached up.  Needs to keep the ball higher to take advantage of his length.  But for a 7 footer, he runs like a deer.

Traore is a beast.  In full court 1 on 1 drills, he just uses his body and leverage to get the ball in the paint and will abuse his defender with his length and strength.  He stays low to keep his defender behind him to receive the interior pass.  I predict many And-1's for him.  He also has a 3 point shot, and can hit them when he stays low and uses his legs to catch and shoot.  If he's too upright, he tends to miss them short, a common fault with many shooters.  Coach Joe really coached him up on that.  He has good footwork and good touch around the rim.  He will be one of the more physical and athletic post players in the Big West.  

Shtolzberg obviously has  a smooth 3 point shot, but he has a really soft touch in the mid range, even the fade aways when he's just shooting around.  He's definitely Div. 1 ready physically, and skills-wise.

Fontenot's 3 point shot was surprisingly accurate and he had good form.  At one point, he made 9 of 10 3's from the left 45 degree spot.  His shot is better than Ajay's shot when he was a true freshman (altho Ajay has elite drives and finishes).  Physically, Fontenot looks like a right handed Ajay, but their games are different.  Fontenot is skinnier, about the same size when Ajay was a freshman.  Fontenot needs to bulk up also, but his skills set suggests he will play this year.

As a bonus, Devearl and Max attended the practice, as did Pimm and Gary Cunningham.  One recruit was there, but no news on him.  The coaches are recruiting to fill out the final one or two slots.  Joe is a relentless recruiter.  Kelly Barsky also showed up to greet donors and the former players.

Interview with Coach Joe Pasternack, June 28, 2023

Gaucho Hoops ("GH"):  Can you talk about the the new players, incoming transfers as well as freshmen players?

Joe Pasternack ("JP"):  Yes.

GH: And then we can cover the returnees and how they're developing.

JP: Really excited about this upcoming season. All of our players are now back home. They have a break; we don't start up until July 10th. Our new guys are coming in this week, so Yohan Traore, Ben Shtolzberg, Jason Fontenet, and Mezziah Oakman--they're all here this week to get into summer school to get their physicals, and they get a two week head start on the returners. What we're doing now is their physicals, and they start lifting weights, they learn our shooting drills, kind of the details of our system. They're getting acclimated to a college campus. And I'm really, really excited about these 4 new guys that we have coming in so far.

GH: Awesome. Can you break down the freshman first, Fontenet, and his game.

JP: Jason Fontenet is an incredible, young man. He's a 4.0 student from Phoenix, AZ. He went to Bella Vista Prep School. His dad played basketball at Oregon State. He's got great genes. He's about 6'5", really strong college-ready body. Comes from a great, great family. Lives with his mom. He can really shoot the basketball but what I love about him is he's the total package: academics, he fits in at UC Santa Barbara, perfect student athlete. Highest character young man you can meet. That's number two. Number three, he's driven to be a pro, loves the game of basketball, and he's just such a perfect fit for our basketball program, and I expect him to be able to help us this year. He can play multiple positions on the perimeter as a guard.

GH: So 1,2, and 3 basically.

JP: Yep.

GH: So he's a good shooter. How about his defense? Does he use his length at all? Or is that something he has to develop, as most freshmen do?

JP: Yes, he is going to learn all that. He's just learning the details of our system right now.

GH: Let's talk about Ben. He's from southern California originally? He played at Creighton, right?

JP: Yes, Ben Shtolzberg is a young man we recruited out of high school. He chose Creighton. He's a 6'4" guard who plays multiple positions, which I like. He can really score the ball, shoot the ball, make plays off ball screens, has an incredible attitude, loves the game just wants to get better, coachable, from probably an hour and a half from here, in the Valley, and comes from a great family. High character, great student, so really excited about him.

GH: Was he on the team 2 years ago when you played them in the NCAA's?

JP: No. He's a sophomore. He has 3 years to play. Jason has 4 years to play.

GH: And then there's Mezziah Oakman.

JP: Yeah. Mezziah Oakman is a junior college player, and he's got two years left. Played at San Francisco City Junior [City] College where Jalen Canty and Miles Norris went. He's 7'0", 225 pounds, he's an incredible physical specimen, comes from an amazing Junior College. Justin Labagh is the head coach, he's the all-time winningest junior college coach in the state of California over Jerry Tarkanian. He's tied with JerryTarkanian for the most state championships in the history of the state of California. So Mezziah comes from a great, great coach, and so I'm really excited about Mezziah. I think with any new guy, and I just named the three, they have a long, long time...It takes time to get adjusted to college basketball in our system, so we're being very patient with them, but demanding and holding them accountable, and one of the big things we're doing because we have so many new guys. with Andrew Kelly, Miles Norris, Calvin Wishart, and Ajare Sanni gone, is we're going to take our team to Vancouver. It's the first time in six years. We've never gone on a foreign tour, so by going to Vancouver, we get 10 extra real days of practice--unlimited time to practice. To be able to practice those 10 days to be able to get ready to play college basketball games in Vancouver, to be able to install our system to teach these guys, and try to get them up to speed.

GH: Do you have the teams in Vancouver you will be playing?

JP: There will be some teams in Vancouver who we will play.

GH: Exhibition, preseason type games.

JP: Yes.

GH: The next new incoming player is Yohan. How is he coming along?

JP: Yohan Traore is a young man we used to watch. He was on KK's AAU team Dream Vision. We know him very well out of high school. He went to Dream City in Arizona, and Prolific Prep. So we're very familiar with him. He's a transfer from Auburn. With shoes, he's about 6'11" with a 7'3" wingspan. Again, he's only a freshman, he'll be a sophomore next year, so he's got 3 years to play. He has tremendous, tremendous potential. He's from France. He's an incredible young man, who I'm really, really excited about developing him.

GH: So he's another bilingual guy. I think he's our first 5 star recruit at UCSB out of high school, as far as I know.

JP: Yeah, I'm not sure about that.

GH: I think he is, which is kind of amazing. Any news on returnees? I'm sure Ajay comes to mind first for all the fans.

JP: I think Ajay is really locked in to have an incredible season. He had a great spring, working on his body. Again, got a lot stronger, believe it or not. Worked really hard on his entire game, his outside shooting, he's really shooting the ball great in the spring and summer. He's really locked into having the best year he possibly can have. He's had a great, great 2 years, but he's not satisfied which is great. He's another young man who has incredible character, academically does incredible in school and we're really excited.

GH: So wait, he gained about 25 pounds of muscle last year. You're saying he's gotten even stronger this summer?

JP: Yeah, he's over 200 pounds now.

GH: Wow. What about Cole Anderson?

JP: Cole Anderson again, this is their break, they're all off campus. Everybody needs a mental and physical break. And it's great to get them out of here. Cole Anderson is in Fresno right now with family. He loves the game and he's working out and I think he's going to have a huge year, and we're really excited about him. I think if I could describe anything about this team, the character of the individuals are so high, they love the game, they're very driven and motivated to be pros, but also to get back to the NCAA's. They got a taste of it, but want to get back there. But it's a grind. It's not easy. The pressure, the process and honoring the process every single day. When you're a high character individual, you understand that and you honor our process and that's the key for us. We don't talk about championships, we talk about being a champion every single day, and that's why I feel so good about this team.

GH: Having Gabe Vincent as a model of honoring the process certainly helps.

JP: Absolutely, because nobody honored the process every day like he did, being a champion like he did, and bringing up his team is huge.

GH: Yep, that was great, as I was rooting for the Heat the whole playoffs. What about JPL?

JP: Josh Pierre-Louis, this will be the first spring and summer where he's been healthy. The last 3 springs and summers, when he got here, it was during COVID. He wasn't around here, so we didn't get to coach him that spring and summer. Then we played in the NCAA tournament, and he got hurt against Creighton. And he didn't work out in the spring or summer leading up to his junior year. Then in the Irvine game before the Long Beach game, he got hurt. And his hip was out, he was out for the whole spring and summer. And so this is the first spring he's had with our team to work on his game, shooting the basketball, and he's now home in New Jersey with his family, which is great. He's had a great, great spring. He's going to have a great summer. I think it'll be his best year, so I'm really excited about him.

Matija Belic, is on the under 20 Serbian team right now, and all the fans can look him up. He plays on July 8th is when it starts. I think he's going to have a huge year for us. I'm really excited about him.

Then Ariel Bland redshirted, so our fans weren't really able to see him going against Miles Norris every day in practice. A lot of days, he got the better of Miles. He's going to have a great motor, and I think he's going to be a great forward for us, really excited about Ariel.

GH: Real quickly, what are his strengths, because we haven't seen much of him. Defense, rebounding?

JP: Driver, DRIVER...rebound, motor, and really, really plays hard. I'm really excited about him.

And then there is Evans Kipruto. Evans Kipruto came on strong...we don't to the NCAA tournament without Evans and Matija. We got them late. Matija hit huge 3's against UCR. When Andre Kelly got into foul trouble, Evans Kipruto came in and again, another guy that just loves the game. High character, really excited about him.

GH: Yeah I noticed they didn't play much in the beginning and when they stepped in they were ready. They could have been stale, but instead, they came through in the clutch. They really honored the process. That's it for the players, but going forward, you really like the team's chemistry and make up.

JP: We're really excited to get them all together on July 10th, and being able to practice and getting ready for our Vancouver trip. I think it'll be great team building, to integrate the new guys with the returners, and it's all about our returners establishing our culture on a daily basis, and our coaching staff; everybody working together to establish our culture right now.

GH: The schedule is always a topic.

JP: We're working on the schedule right now.

GH: Who can you announce?

JP: It looks like the one game that we're going to play, we're going to the Pit to play New Mexico, which will be a very challenging game, but we're still working on all our schedule. We're playing LMU in the Phoenix Suns Arena. We did it last year. The Basketball Hall of Fame Jerry Colangelo Classic. To be able to play in an NBA arena is huge. And they came up with the opponent, Loyola Marymount. It's a shame we have to go to Phoenix to play LMU, but that's the way it works. To play neutral games, I think it prepares us for the conference tournament. So that's what I'm excited for.

GH: Awesome.

JP: When I was at Arizona, we had a saying to our players. "You don't get to choose the NBA. The NBA has to choose you." You can't just say "I want to go to the NBA." Its the same with scheduling. People want to know why can't we play certain teams. Gonzaga won't play us. UCLA won't play us. Not one PAC-12 team will play us. So I don't get to pick who UCSB plays. They have to want to play us.

When you get married, she has to want to marry you. Not one PAC-12 school will play us. Gonzaga won't play us. And so people say, "Why will they play such and such?" I don't know. But they won't play us, okay? So that's where we're at right now. We're working really hard to finish our schedule. We're going to do the best we can. We'd love to have a big name come into the Thunderdome. Unfortunately, the days of Cal and North Carolina coming to the Thunderdome are not going to happen anymore.