5 sto­ry­lines as Boise State bas­ket­ball’s sea­son starts

The Idaho Statesman - - Front Page - BY RACHEL ROBERTS rroberts@ida­hostates­man.com

Se­niors Chan­dler Hutchi­son, Chris Sengfelder and Lexus Wil­liams ac­counted for 53.1 per­cent of Boise State’s points and 51.4 per­cent of the Bron­cos’ re­bounds in 2017-18.

All three have now moved on to pro­fes­sional ca­reers, open­ing the door for a new crop of Bron­cos to take over the stat sheet this sea­son.

The Bron­cos, who have been work­ing for months be­hind closed doors, will make their of­fi­cial 201819 de­but at 7 p.m. Sat- ur­day against Idaho State in Taco Bell Arena. The Boise State women, who won their opener Thurs­day night, will start a bas­ket­ball dou­ble­header at 4:30 p.m. against South­ern Ore­gon.

“I think peo­ple are go­ing to en­joy the way this team is go­ing to play. They’re go­ing to play ex­tremely hard, which has al­ways been our sta­ple, and they’re go­ing to re­ally move the ball,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said. “We’ve got great bal­ance, and to watch a team go from where they are in No­vem­ber to where they are in March, I think go­ing to be a lot of fun for peo­ple.”

Here are five sto­ry­lines as the Bron­cos’ sea­son gets un­der­way:

1. BALANCED AT­TACK

Last sea­son, op­po­nents knew to build their game plan around Hutchi­son, who be­came the pro­gram’s first NBA Draft first-round pick when he was taken with the 22nd over­all pick by the Chicago Bulls in June.

Teams won’t have that lux­ury this sea­son.

Ju­nior guard Jus­tinian Jes­sup is the Bron­cos’ top re­turn­ing scorer at just 11.6 points per game, and Rice ex­pects this year’s team to have a more balanced at­tack.

“The good thing about this team is go ahead and com­mit two guys or fo­cus on Jus­tinian,” Rice said. “We’ve got six other guys or seven other guys who can re­ally put up some num­bers on any given night. That makes you hard to guard.”

Jes­sup, ju­nior Alex Hobbs, and se­niors Zach Haney and David Wacker each have start­ing ex­pe­ri­ence with the Bron­cos, and ju­nior Mar­cus Dick­in­son has pro­vided a con­sisthat’s

tent spark off the bench.

“We have a well-rounded team,” Haney said. “Every­body can score the ball. Every­body be­lieves in each other.”

2. AN­OTHER TRANS­FER BOOST

Grad­u­ate trans­fers Wil­liams and Sengfelder moved seam­lessly into the Bron­cos’ start­ing lineup a year ago, and ju­nior col­lege trans­fers RJ Wil­liams (East Los An­ge­les Col­lege) and Pat Dem­b­ley (Iowa West­ern CC) should give this year’s team an­other in­stant boost.

The 6-foot-7, 209pound Wil­liams av­er­aged 19.3 points and 6.6 re­bounds as a sopho­more, lead­ing East Los An­ge­les to a 24-6 record and the South Coast Con­fer­ence’s North Di­vi­sion ti­tle.

“I think the first thing that you’ll see with Rod is that he’s just go­ing to keep im­prov­ing, be­cause he’s so hun­gry to be coached and he wants to get bet­ter and he wants to do the right thing,” Rice said. “His big­gest prob­lem is he beats him­self up over mis­takes too much. I’m just try­ing to teach him next play, next play. We’ll live with some mis­takes, be­cause he’s a stat stuffer.”

Dem­b­ley was cho­sen as an NJCAA All-Amer­i­can at Iowa West­ern af­ter av­er­ag­ing 19.9 points and 4.0 as­sists.

“He’s re­ally dynamic and can go around guys,” Rice said. “He has a great feel for mak­ing guys bet­ter.”

3. TOP 3-POINT SHOOTER EVOLVES

Jes­sup fin­ished last sea­son ranked ninth in the na­tion with a 3-point shoot­ing per­cent­age of 45.7 per­cent.

Jes­sup’s 90 3-point­ers were the most for a Bronco sopho­more in pro­gram his­tory and rank as the sec­ond most over­all be­hind Abe Jack­son’s 92 in 2001-02.

As good as Jes­sup’s been at the 3 ball, it may not be the most im­por­tant facet of his game this sea­son. He’s stepping into his third year as a starter, and the Bron­cos will look to Jes­sup for lead­er­ship on and off the court.

“He’s be­come more of a scorer, not just a shooter,” Rice said. “I think night in and night out he’s go­ing to put up good num­bers.”

4. D.A. NEXT IN LINE FOR BIG JUMP?

Rice and his staff take great pride in the de­vel­op­ment of their play­ers, and red­shirt sopho­more Der­rick Al­ston might be the next Bronco to make a huge leap.

The 6-foot-8 guard from Hous­ton, Texas, has a wing­span of 8 feet and a set of springs for legs. Al­ston ap­peared in only 11 games last sea­son and av­er­aged just 2.4 min­utes, but he got the start in the Bron­cos’ ex­hi­bi­tion opener against Van­guard.

“That’s usu­ally what you see with these guys. It’s the same path as (James) Webb and Chan­dler (Hutchi­son),” Rice said. “You’d see these flashes when they were young, but they didn’t live there ev­ery day. Then as they got bet­ter and bet­ter, they just lived there ev­ery sin­gle day.

“... That’s what you’re start­ing to see with D.A. He’s start­ing to be that guy con­sis­tently.”

Al­ston’s fa­ther, who is also named Der­rick, was the No. 33 over­all pick by the Philadel­phia 76ers in the 1994 NBA Draft. He went on to play two years in the NBA and 16 sea­sons over­seas.

“His game from last year to where it is now, he’s just grown tremen­dously,” Haney said.

5. TOP 25 OP­PO­NENTS

Rice had to sell fans and me­dia alike on the idea that non­con­fer­ence op­po­nent Loy­ola Chicago was an NCAA Tour­na­ment team last sea­son.

The Ram­blers took an 87-53 beat­ing against the Bron­cos on Nov. 28, 2017, at Taco Bell Arena, and lost three more games in late 2017. Then they went on a tear when the cal­en­dar turned to 2018, fin­ish­ing the sea­son 32-6 and with a sur­prise Fi­nal Four ap­pear­ance.

Rice might just let the rank­ings do the talk­ing for him this sea­son.

Based on The As­so­ci­ated Press Top 25 pre­sea­son poll, the Bron­cos will have at least four games against ranked op­po­nents. Boise State has a home­and-home se­ries with No. 7 Ne­vada be­cause it is a Moun­tain West foe, and also with No. 14 Ore­gon of the Pac-12. The home games against those two are Dec. 29 vs. the Ducks and Jan. 15 vs. the Wolf Pack.

De­fend­ing Moun­tain West Tour­na­ment cham­pion San Diego State also could make its way into the rank­ings by the time the Aztecs play in Boise on Jan. 5. SDSU was among the other teams re­ceiv­ing votes in the sea­son-open­ing poll.

DARIN OSWALD doswald@ida­hostates­man.com

Boise State guard Der­rick Al­ston drives on 7-foot-3 Loy­ola Mary­mount cen­ter Mat­tias Markus­son on Nov. 25, 2017, at Taco Bell Arena in Boise.

KATHER­INE JONES kjones@ida­hostates­man.com

Ju­nior col­lege trans­fer RJ Wil­liams had 16 points and eight re­bounds in Boise State’s 89-63 ex­hi­bi­tion win over Van­guard on Mon­day at Taco Bell Arena.

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