San Diego State is no stranger to uncertainty on the basketball court.
Last year, coach Steve Fisher admitted that he didn’t know what to expect out of his team other than that he thought his team was going to be decent.
He didn’t know that the 2010-11 edition of Aztecs basketball would win a school record 34 games, win the school’s first NCAA Tournament game and reach the Sweet Sixteen.
But SDSU faces a different level of uncertainty heading into this season, after losing five regulars—four of them starters.
“I’m anxious to see how all the pieces will fit,” Fisher told the media a few weeks ago. “It’s unlike a year ago when I came in here and said, `I know we’re going to be good. How good? I’m not sure, but I know we’re going to be good.’ This year I’m very anxious to see how we will respond, who will step up and what we will be on Nov. 2, our first exhibition game, and Nov. 11, our first game for real.”
The Aztecs will be without their top four scorers from last season (Kawhi Leonard left school early to enter the NBA Draft and Billy White, Malcolm Thomas and D.J. Gay all graduated)
But, if there is any consolation it is that San Diego State really did not depend on any one of them to put up big numbers night in and night out. It was always a combination of Aztecs players combining to lead the team to victory.
Seven different players last year recorded leading-scorer marks and two of them return—guards Chase Tapley and James Rahon.
Tapley is the only returning starter, but Rahon averaged more than 10 minute a game coming off the bench.
Both are expected to be in the starting five this year.
The only returning senior is Tim Shelton. Though he played in 31 games last season, his time was limited as the coaching staff monitored his minutes after Shelton missed the end of his sophomore campaign with knee surgery.
Shelton, Tapley and Rahon represent the three returning players who saw the most minutes from last year.
That’s three our of just nine scholarship players. Programs are allowed to have 13 scholarship players on a team.
SDSU will have to rely on transfers Garrett Green (a 6-11 forward from LSU), Xavier Thames (a transfer from Washington State who is expected to play at the point), and DeShawn Stephens (a junior college transfer) to play huge minutes.
But, according to Shelton, Fisher and his veteran coaching staff have done a pretty good job this camp in folding the new faces in.
“Coach has done a really great job dictating the pace for the learning and development of the team and dictating in a way where people are learning quickly,” Shelton told the North County Times. “The coaches are doing a wonderful job. The guys are doing a wonderful job of listening and knowing that we have a lot to do in a short amount of time.”
And if the players are confident that Fisher and his staff will have the team ready, Fisher is also confident in his guys.
“We’ve never had this few scholarship bodies to play,” Fisher told the Union-Tribune. “As everybody knows, you need more than nine guys. But if I’m arguing point-counterpoint, I never play more than nine guys. So if we’ve got the right nine, we’re all right—if we can keep them all healthy, if we can keep them all contributing.”
Those are big ifs, almost enough to fill the gap between a successful season and one that pales in comparison to last year’s dream run.
But no one is expecting a repeat performance from San Diego State. The team was picked to finished third in the Mountain West, behind New Mexico and UNLV.
And that might bring a little relief to Fisher and his players. Although, not much more relief.
“I’m a little nervous,” Fisher said, “yet very excited.”
For more info: Visit our San Diego State Aztecs Examiner, Jamie Kiskis.Visit our College Basketball Examiner, Shawn S. Lealos. Check out the lodeplus.com Top 25 poll. Follow me on Twitter.