Photo by Gerald Castillo
Texas State ‘just wants to win’ during upcoming season
Danny Kaspar was smiling when he saw the Sun Belt preseason poll.
Sure, Texas State was selected eighth, a deserving spot after a 15-18 campaign during the 2017-18 season that featured eight conference losses by five points or less.
But the sixth-year head coach believes his team is better than eighth. He has three returning starters — senior guard Tre Nottingham, senior forward Alex Peacock and junior guard Nijal Pearson, who was the team’s leading scorer.
Kaspar knows the Bobcats can outperform their preseason projection.
“Every night I pray that we stay away from injuries, we stay away from bad attitudes, which I don’t see at this point in time, and stay away from things like ineligibility, which I don’t see as a problem at this time,” Kaspar said at Texas State’s basketball media day on Oct. 25. “And I think we do that, we could have a pretty good year. I’m smiling when they pick us eighth. I don’t think we’re an eighth place team. I mean, they picked us 12th two years ago, I was really smiling. That’s fine. That way I think my team is better. If we do do better than they pick us that makes me look good. So, go ahead pick us low, we’ll surprise you.”
But Pearson, who averaged 14.6 points and six rebounds per game last season, isn’t smiling about being picked eighth.
“I mean, I won’t say I like it either,” Pearson said. “I don’t like to be disrespected or looked down on. What can I do about it? I can play basketball. But I can’t do that until Nov. 9. Until then I don’t really have anything really to say about it.”
Learning from last season
Last year was a disappointment. Texas State was coming off its best season under Kaspar, where the Bobcats came up short in the Sun Belt tournament final and won two games in the College Basketball Invitational and finished at 22-14.
Texas State began the 2017-18 season in up and down fashion. The Bobcats finished with a 6-6 non-conference record. Texas State suffered frustrating defeats to Air Force, UTSA and Houston Baptist and Abilene Christian.
January was a good month. Texas State went 7-3 to start conference competition.
February was a nightmare. The Bobcats didn’t win a single game. In fact, they didn’t pick up a victory until the first round of the Sun Belt tournament on March 7, where they beat Coastal Carolina, 73-66, to snap a nine-game losing streak. Texas State was eliminated by Louisiana in a 80-54 blowout loss to end the season.
“We asked (the players) what was the reason for us being 15-18,” Kaspar said, ‘and they were pretty much on the numbers that I had. One, ‘We need to play better defense, coach.’ That was one of my worst defensive teams last year. Basically, I said we’ve got to buy in on the defensive end. Two, they mentioned inexperience. I thought that was a great answer. Three, we’ve got to win these close games. If you talk about how many losses we had by four points or less, it’s the majority of our losses, or very close to half — One over half or right at half.”
Despite the struggles, Pearson and Peacock feel like suffering through so many close losses has made them better players.
“Looking back at those games, there are plays in those games that could have been made that we could’ve won,” Pearson said. “I feel like there’s plays that I could’ve made or my teammates could’ve made. I feel like if we make those small plays, which are free throws, rebounds, a charge. It doesn’t have to be scoring. An extra pass, call out a set at the right time, or somebody rotate a little bit faster just small things like that. Somebody getting a 50-50 ball. It’s things like that that’s going to help us be a better team. I feel like we all understand that.”
Added Peacock: “Last season, just really going through all those tough, tough games, close games, it teaches you how to overcome things like that going into your second year. Like, last year, in close games we would just kind tighten up and stuff like that, and now you just learn how to play looser and don’t be so crunched up in crunch time that’s really the biggest thing that I learned.”
“We just want to win”
Texas State’s goal is simple this season.
“I feel like the common goal this year is just to win games,” Pearson said. “I don’t care how we win. We don’t care if it’s by 15 or by one … we don’t care what the score is, we just want to win.”
The Bobcats believe a better season is coming with experience coming back.
Alongside the three returning starters, the Bobcats have junior guard Marlin Davis returning, who started at point guard last year before suffering a season-ending injury against Troy on Jan. 6. Texas State also has sophomores Shelby Adams and Quentin Scott back, and senior guard Isaiah Gurley returns, who missed time away from the court because of injuries.
The Bobcats are expecting junior forward Eric Terry to takeover the “five” spot with the departure of senior Immanuel King. Terry averaged 5.6 points and 2.7 rebounds per game last year.
“The biggest thing with experience, in my mind, comes just the fact that on the court we trust each other more,” Pearson said. “So, with me playing for coach Kaspar for the third year, I trust his system more as far as I would trust the guy that’s play for his second year to trust coach Kaspar’s system. So, if he trusts coach Kaspar’s system then I know he’s going to have my back when I mess up or I’m going to have his back.”
Texas State is also excited about its new players on the roster.
The Bobcats brought in three JUCO players, two of which are expected to play big roles this season — junior guard Jaylen Shead and junior forward Akiem Daschner.
The team’s most heralded freshman is guard Mason Harrell, who was named the 2018 Oklahoma Gatorade Player of the Year. He averaged 33.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 3.4 steals per game during his senior year at Carl Albert High School in Midwest City, Okla.
Texas State has its first opportunity to win when it takes on Air Force on Friday at 7 p.m. inside Strahan Arena.
“I just think this team, if it chooses to do what I ask them to do, could make some waves, could make some serious waves this year,” Kaspar said. “And again, the experience of going through a 15-18 disappointing season, like I said, you can’t do the same thing. That was a long February, we’ve got to do something and I think they’re saying based off (the players’) answers in the exit interviews is ‘We’ve got to do it his way,’ and I think they are trying to do it my way, our way in practices right now. Just knock on wood. Ever since last year, every day, pray for no injuries. Keep them healthy.”