It will be kind of like starting over for USD men
VERMILLION, S.D. | In his own words, third-year South Dakota men’s basketball coach Craig Smith says it feels like year one all over again.
There are a lot of new faces, not to mention a new arena to play in, for a Coyote team that finished 14-18 and 5-11 in the Summit League. The roster lists five players who got in games last season and 10 who either weren’t on the team or sitting out as redshirts.
“We graduated 78 percent of our scoring, 65 percent of our rebounding and 80 percent of our minutes,” Smith said during media day Tuesday at the brand new Sanford Coyote Sports Center. “That’s a lot to overcome but I really like the vibe of this team and the new guys in our program. Their attitude and work ethic have been phenomenal.”
Tyler Flack, the only senior on the roster, is certainly a player the team will lean on. The 6-7 Lakeville, Minnesota, native worked his way back into playing shape after missing the entire 2013-14 season because of an injury, averaging 9.9 points and 5.5 rebounds in 17 games, nine as a starter.
Sophomores Dan Jech (6-9), Tyler Hagedorn (6-10) and Logan Power (6-4) and junior Austin Sparks (6-8) are the other players who saw action last season.
A lot will depend on how quickly transfers Trey Dickerson (Iowa), Carlton Hurst (Colorado State) and Matt Mooney (Air Force) adapt to Smith’s style.
“The NCAA allows you to take a foreign trip once every four years and fortunately for us our administration provided the funds and means to take a trip to Spain and it couldn’t have been more impeccable timing for our program with all the new faces,” Smith said. “We’re allowed 10 practices beforehand and you could just see the learning curve of our guys. Just to see the growth and develop our chemistry and terminology, to be able to do those sorts of things at an early stage was very critical.”
Trey Burch-Manning and Josh Doss are two more transfers that Smith likes. All in all, it’s pretty much a wait and see proposition.
“We’re a lot different looking team than we were the last two years,” Smith said. “We have a lot more length, especially on the perimeter, and certainly a much more athletic team. Way quicker to the ball and as a team we’re much deeper and have a lot more skill.”
Hurst is a phenomenal athlete who is quick to the ball and a guy who can defend against nearly every position. Dickerson is a point guard with great speed and court vision and Mooney was the Mountain West Conference sixth man of the year runner-up as a true freshman.
“Things are different in a lot of ways, we have the new arena and that’s been amazing and we have a whole new team,” Flack said. “I think we have a lot of young talent and I’m excited for us to get started.”
Flack, a renowned leaper, feels his confidence and physical condition are the best they’ve been in his collegiate career.
“It’s been tough with all the injuries but having all summer to gel with the players has been huge,” Flack said. “Last year I had to sit out half the season and try to make my way back without playing and practicing with those players so this year’s been really good and I’m excited about it.
“Taking some time off from an injury standpoint, I felt kind of rusty coming back last year. Having this summer to work on my game definitely helps. I feel really good right now.”
Sitting and watching has it advantages, but Hurst is ready to take the floor once again.
“When you can’t play you can learn the game more by observing and really paying attention to what’s going on,” the 6-3 guard said. “Now being able to play you can kind of transfer over what you learned from watching the game.”
The Coyotes also have five true freshmen on their roster and a few of them could also see playing time. That group includes Brandon Armstrong (6-5), Tyler Peterson (6-4), Triston Simpson (6-1), Jack Stensgard (6-2) and Brady Delimont (6-3).
USD’s schedule includes trips to national power Gonzaga as well as a game against Portland State on the NBA Portland Trail Blazers’ home floor. Then there’s a Dec. 3 contest at Nebraska, where Smith served as an assistant before taking the Coyote post in 2014.
The season gets under way Nov. 11 at Drake.