It’s one last go-round for Tres Tinkle in an Oregon State basketball uniform.
Priorities for the two-time all-Pac-12 Conference performer remain the same. The senior forward wants to help the Beavers win and continue to improve his skills as he pursues a professional playing career.
The regular season begins Tuesday at home against Cal State Northridge as Oregon State begins its chase of an NCAA tournament berth. The Beavers were 18-13 overall — 10-8 and the fourth seed in the Pac-12 — last year while missing out on the postseason for the third straight season.
Tinkle sat down recently to explore various topics, including his decision to return to school for a final year after a few workouts with NBA teams.
He said teams like his ability to make plays, as well as his high basketball IQ, versatility and toughness. When talking about Oregon State, he said “there’s something about this place,” and he decided that another year improving at the college level would help him in the long run.
He says junior guard Ethan Thompson has become a more consistent player and senior forward Kylor Kelley has gotten stronger. He likes the team’s newcomers and the impacts they can make.
In the team’s first exhibition, against Carroll, the Beavers seemed almost too excited and lost some defensive discipline, Tinkle said. But they got back to the game plan last week against Warner Pacific.
The following was edited for clarity and length.
Was there one reason above others that made you decided to come back?
Tres Tinkle: “I just felt like what I was hearing from NBA teams was good, positive feedback. But it just wasn’t enough for me to go two feet in. With a year left I could improve in the areas that they’re talking about. Then obviously, one of the biggest things was winning to those guys. I felt with the guys we had coming back and the new faces we had getting in, we’re going to have a chance to do some incredible things. Just continuing to develop my game, my body, all those things on top of winning, is really just going to be icing on the cake for the following season.”
He sought advice from the OSU coaching staff, including his father, Beavers head coach Wayne Tinkle, and mentor Luke Jackson, a former NBA player and college standout. He credits Oregon State associate head coach Kerry Rupp for helping him prepare for his NBA workouts.
The word from NBA teams is that he could be picked in the middle to late second round. Had he kept his name in consideration and committed to the draft, more workouts could have improved his stock. But he didn’t want to leave that to chance.
“And there’s nothing like college basketball. It’s the last time you’re really playing for something instead of just business aspects or what not. It’s something I’ve been enjoying, otherwise I wouldn’t have come back. I love playing for my dad, the rest of the guys around me, the coaching staff, teammates. For those reasons I wanted to come back.”
After making your decision to return, what were your on-court focuses?
TT: “Something they wanted to see is me get quicker laterally, to be able to guard guys at the next level, which I think I’ll be able to. Once I have time to just focus on basketball, that’s where I’ll watch much more film. I can get quicker, but also just picking up on tendencies of players.
“I’ve been working on core and hip strength to promote that quickness … and being shot ready. Sometimes I float around the 3-point line straight up, so that when I catch it I’m not ready to shoot. Nothing technical with my release or anything, just moving around in a stance and being ready to get to my shooting pocket and fire it.”
You’ve seen your team together for a few months and now through two exhibitions. What do you think?
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TT: “We have the athletes to guard, to run in transition, a shot blocker like Kylor. One thing we’ve said is chase them off the 3-point line and they can take a shot over the leading shot blocker in the country.
“Just flying around more, communication, all those little things. A lot of new guys (eight in all). First they have to get more comfortable playing here in the atmosphere. With our ability to adjust from one game to next (in the exhibitions), showing the improvement, just doing that every single day and every single game.”
You’re a team-first guy and you’ve shown that repeatedly. But how disappointing was it not to win the Pac-12 player of the year award and how much has that fueled you?
TT: “Winning will take care of all of that, and that’s probably the number-one reason I didn’t get it last year. I think they really want to give it to someone who is propelling a team to a top-two finish. I think if we finish second, like we should have last year and we don’t let those games slip late … It should have been mine. I had every commentator and people telling me I was the best player in the Pac-12. But you’ve got to have the record or winning games to show that.
“I know what I’m capable of doing, and now it’s leading our team and the new guys, as long as we get the best out of them, and winning games. The rest will take care of itself.”
Ethan, what kind of year do you expect him to have?
TT: “I think he’s going to have a huge year. He’s had a great spring, summer and early fall leading up to our first game. He’s been a lot more vocal, leading by example and not being afraid to tell them what they’re doing wrong.
“I think he really changed his pace, more under control. I can think of games last year where he’d get ahead of himself and get himself into a tough situation. He keeps his dribble alive now, makes great plays for his teammates, can finish at the hoop.”
With Kylor, I’ve heard a few people in the program say he’s playing with a lot more confidence. How much did that year of experience and success on the court really help him?
TT: “A ton. I think confidence comes from success, knowing what you can do and learning the game, especially in the Pac-12. He played great all throughout the year, but you didn’t know what to expect some games. Once he started figuring out what he could do, regardless if he could score, blocking shots, running the floor. He’s a good passer for someone on the block.
“He’s gotten stronger. He’s not fading away as much on shots. He’s trying to go through people’s bodies and finish closer to the rim, just because there’s no one who can challenge him with his long arms and his athleticism.
"He’s gotten more aggressive, more confidence, shooting that mid-range jumper at a higher clip. All of that comes from the work he’s put in and having more experience under his belt.”
Do you feel like you have the supporting cast to get to where you want to be?
TT: "I think so. Just people knowing they can hit shots. Everyone plays hard. They’re still getting used to confidence and what not, but you don’t have to coach their effort. They may make a mistake and forget something. They’re flying around and trying to be active.
“You have people like (freshman point guard) Gianni (Hunt) who push the ball lightning fast, and either finish or make plays for others. That’s going to get guys like me and Ethan open shots, where we don’t have to create all the time. (Freshman shooting guard) Jarod Lucas, who is going to stretch defenders out because they can’t leave him, or he’s going to hit shots. I thought (junior forward) Alfred (Hollins) played really confident (against Warner Pacific), that’s more consistent from him. (Junior guard) Zach (Reichle), he’s shooting it much better.”
It would seem the pieces are in place to have a pretty good year. Is it going to be a disappointment if you don’t get to the NCAA tournament?
TT: “I don’t think we’re thinking like that. But I think with the weapons we have, the experience we have and leadership we have, we definitely think that’s a possibility. Everybody’s goal is to get to the tournament. Whatever team you ask, that’s what they want to do. It’s the same as us. But we know we have a chip on our shoulder to prove people wrong, and I think that’s what is going to give us a big advantage.
“But it’s all about improving day to day, learning from your mistakes and getting hot at the right time. But I really believe we have all the right pieces to do things like that, 100 percent.”