On Friday night, the University of South Dakota men’s basketball team opens its 2011-12 season at Nebraska. (You can join my game chat from Lincoln, Neb. right here).
Though the Coyotes return four starters from an 18-15 squad a year ago, this season figures to be more known for what’s new. USD joins the Summit League and brings in two transfers who will see significant minutes.
Jeremy Hoeck from the Yankton Press & Dakotan caught up with sophomore forward Trevor Gruis (9.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg) this week to talk about the upcoming season.
Is the team ready to play Nebraska?
“We’re pretty well-prepared right now, just fine-tuning a few things in the last few days of practice. Everyone’s excited to get out on the court, to see what we’re made of. Maybe we can play a little tougher this year or maybe we can win, you never know. Last year, Ricardo (Andreotti) and I got thrown in there right away against all their bigs, so that was a little bit of an eye-opener. We’re all more comfortable playing with each other now, so that’ll definitely help our defensive schemes.”
How will that comfort help against the Huskers?
“It’ll help a ton, because early on last year, we got into a lot of foul trouble. Toward the end of the season, we got it figured, so now we’re more comfortable together. Our chemistry is really strong too, and the new guys should fit in pretty well.”
One of those new guys, Allen Saint-Gelais, figures to start right away. How has he looked in practice?
“He’s seriously really athletic. He can shoot it a little bit, but likes to put it on the floor more. We needed some help with rebounding, and he’ll complement a lot of what we do. He can post up smaller defenders and take it at them.”
“Oh yeah, he’s very explosive. I think he’ll surprise some people with some of his dunks. Charlie (Westbrook) is more of a two-footed dunker, and it’s amazing to watch him. But Allen is a one-footed jumper, and he’ll do some of that in the lane. It’ll be fun to watch.”
With Saint-Gelais taking over the 3 spot, does that free up the rest of you to go back to your natural positions?
“Yeah, definitely. Ricardo and I will be at the 4-5 spots, and we’re pretty interchangeable with that. With Allen at the 3, he’s a better rebounder and a little bigger body. Rebounding was tough for us last year, and he’ll help with that. Louie (Krogman) and Charlie can drop back to where they’re more comfortable. Charlie was matching up with a lot of 3’s or 4’s last year, so we gave up some height.”
Joining the Summit League will certainly be different than the Great West, won’t it?
“Competition wise, there will be a lot of better teams. That’s what I look forward to as a player, seeing better players, and having those challenges every single night. We were picked last, and rightfully so because we’re new, so we don’t have anything to lose if we’re last. We can make a name for ourselves.”
What did the team think about being picked last in the pre-season poll?
(laughts) “We don’t talk about it too much, actually. We didn’t like it, obviously, but we’ll see what happens.”
What kinds of improvements would you like to see in your game?
“The coaches have talked to me in the off-season about me tapering off at the end of last season. I’m not sure what it was, maybe it was me getting tired. I just have to be more consistent this year. We’ve worked on me posting up deeper. Now I’m not afraid to do that against those kind of bigger guys. Hopefully I can produce a little bit more.”