Oregon State men’s basketball enters the season believing it has better talent, depth and chemistry than in years past, when results fell short of goals and expectations.
Whether that adds up to an NCAA tournament berth come March will be decided in the next five-plus months.
The Beavers held their first official practice Tuesday morning with six returners, including two-time all-Pac-12 performer and senior forward Tres Tinkle, along with six newcomers on scholarship plus transfer Payton Dastrup, who joined the program last year but wasn’t granted immediate eligibility.
“I think we’re just so diverse this year. We have a lot of depth in all positions,” said Ethan Thompson, a junior guard who primarily played the point last season but could be moved more off the ball this winter. “This group could be very special. I feel like we have a lot of people that could play different positions, especially with the guards.”
The Beavers have home exhibitions against Carroll (Oct. 23) and Warner Pacific (Oct. 29) before opening the regular season Nov. 5 at home against Cal State Northridge.
Tinkle, Thompson and 7-foot senior forward Kylor Kelley lead the returners. All played major roles as OSU finished fourth in the Pac-12 for the program’s best conference record (10-8) and finish (fourth) in 29 years.
Junior forward Alfred Hollins and junior guard Zach Reichle are also back along with sophomore guard Antoine Vernon.
Oregon State has four true freshmen in guards Julien Franklin, Gianni Hunt, Jarod Lucas and forward Dearon Tucker along with junior college transfers Sean Miller-Moore, a guard, and Roman Silva, a center.
In the offseason additions to the team, OSU coach Wayne Tinkle said the Beavers addressed areas that weren’t strengths in the past.
“I think we’re a tougher team, physically and mentally, and obviously I think we’ve got added talent and depth,” he said. “Now, that only becomes a strength if that depth performs. It’s got to produce.”
Last year, Oregon State believed it had depth, but two true freshmen left the team before the start of conference play and the remaining players didn’t perform as needed. Without bigger contributions from key role players, the Beavers were unable to get their top players more rest, and coach Tinkle says he believes that caught up to the team in the end.
OSU put itself in contention for the NCAA tournament with a 16-8 record but lost five of its last seven, with four of those defeats by five points or fewer. The Beavers’ season ended with a 15-point loss to Colorado at the Pac-12 tournament.
Oregon State lost Gligorije Rakocevic and Stevie Thompson, as they completed their eligibility. Promising freshman forward Wesley Washington left after the season and eventually transferred to Nevada.
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But the Beavers brought in a recruiting class they hope will fill the holes and then some.
“Now we’ve got a lot of guys that can come in, shoot the ball, run the floor, get easy buckets. Garbage buckets off offensive boards and what not,” Tres Tinkle said.
With nothing set in stone and playing time up for grabs with depth across the board, the newcomers are pushing the veterans.
Tres Tinkle said in playing under his father, there are no favorites.
“It doesn’t matter what year you are in school or how old you are,” he said. “If you’re going to produce and help us get wins, you’re going to be out there.”
Having those other options, should they provide consistent performances, would free up playmakers such as Thompson and Tinkle to work off the ball.
Coach Tinkle considers Tres, his son, and Thompson two of the conference’s better transition players.
Tres Tinkle was first and Thompson third on the team in rebounding last season. Having more help in that category, coach Tinkle said, will help speed up the offense.
“If they’re able to get out and run the floor and we can give them the ball in open space, it’s really going to put a lot of pressure on the (defense),” the coach said.
Tres Tinkle has been a vocal leader and Thompson is working to become more of one.
While past Beaver teams were close, Tres Tinkle says this squad is different.
“Something I’ve noticed a lot more, we move in a pack. We go get dinner a lot more, and lunch. Hanging out outside of practice,” he said, noting that the more the players have spent together the better the chemistry has become.
“You’re close with everyone, you’re happy for their success when games come. It makes all that stuff easier to play when you enjoy being out there with the guys and you’ve been through so much, the ups and downs with them.”