Seth Berger’s role hasn’t changed much, if at all, since the beginning of the season. He’s just doing it to a higher degree.
The Oregon State graduate transfer forward’s understanding of and comfort level in a new system with new teammates and coaching staff this season have gradually improved, allowing him to make a bigger and bigger impact as the season progresses.
“I know what my coaches expect of me and want me to do. I feel like I’ve been doing that a little bit better,” Berger said. It’s just kind of filling my role, what I need to be doing, the best that I can. I haven’t hit the best that I can but I’m starting to get there.”
Coach Wayne Tinkle says Berger, who transferred after graduating from UMass, put pressure on himself to be “great right away” when the ball was tipped for the first game in mid-November.
That doesn’t happen for first-year players in a program, regardless of age or maturity level, the coach added.
“He understands now that we need him to give us some baskets,” Tinkle said. “But the defense, just the ball security, the hustle plays, and then the leadership. I think that’s allowed him to maybe relax a little bit, to not think that he’s got to score 20 points for us but to bring those other things that are huge to us and he’s really comfortable with that now.”
The 6-foot-8 Berger seemed to flip a switch on New Year’s Eve as the Beavers (11-8, 3-4 Pac-12) got ready to take on visiting Utah. He had seven points on an efficient 3-of-5 shooting with two rebounds and two steals.
In the six games starting with Utah, he’s averaged seven points while shooting 59.3 percent from the floor, 4.8 rebounds and two assists. Nearly each of those statistics dwarf the numbers he put up in the first 13 games of the season.
Even the six games prior to his recent uptick in production, as his playing time increased steadily, are far behind what he’s done beginning with the Utah game.
“I think he’s just a glue guy for us. He does a little bit of everything,” sophomore forward Tres Tinkle said. “There’s times were he can get eight to 12 points. There’s also times he can get seven, eight rebounds. Like against USC, he had (a career-high) six assists. Just does everything. Brings toughness, experience to the team. His will to win, he’ll do whatever it takes.”
Berger had 10 points and four rebounds in last week’s home win against UCLA. His assist on a Drew Eubanks basket put the Beavers up four with 33 seconds left.
Entering Saturday’s game at Oregon (13-7, 3-4), Berger leads the team in assist-to turnover ratio (plus-2.5) in Pac-12 games. Among those in the Beavers’ regular rotation, he’s first with a 57.1 percent shooting percentage in conference.
Teammate Stevie Thompson credits Berger’s defensive and rebounding abilities as an undersized power forward. Berger is tied with Eubanks for the most offensive rebounds in Pac-12 games with 15.
“He’s definitely a big hustle guy, a great leader for us,” Thompson said. “He’s a pretty vocal person. He’s got a lot of experience. He gets a lot of those rebounds and he’s scoring the ball well these past few games.”
Recruited by coach Tinkle during high school in Seattle, Berger reconnected with him last year and chose Oregon State in order to get closer to home and make a fresh start after seeing limited playing time at UMass last season.
Berger got his undergraduate degree in economics and hopes to be close to finishing his master’s in interdisciplinary studies at the end of spring term in March. Whatever is left he plans to complete online.
He wants to continue his playing career overseas, wherever there is an opportunity and for as long as possible, when the college season is complete.
When basketball is over, he is interested in working on government policy or something related to juvenile delinquency, which is the focus of his master’s studies.
But first there’s work to be done at Oregon State, both in the classroom and on the floor.
Coach Tinkle calls Berger “an energy guy” and “more than a garbage man” because of his ability to score and make plays for others. He can handle the ball, which also makes him valuable.
With pieces falling into place, Berger has shown what he’s all about as a basketball player.
“For me personally it was getting more comfortable on defense, knowing my rotations,” he said. “So once that came then I could relax and just focus on playing my game and doing what I can do.”