Shunn Buchanan is one of the vocal leaders of a very good New Mexico State team. Courtesy of NM State Athletics.

WAC Hoops Media Day Session II Thoughts

DENVER — WAC media day continues to move along as session II just ended. In the second session, Chicago State head coach Lance Irvin gave perhaps the best quote of the day. In fact, both Chicago State coaches are impressive in their approach to recruiting to the South Side. CBU coaches Jarrod Olson and Rick Croy provide insight into what’s going on in Riverside. Here are some more thoughts.

California Baptist Continues to Make Its Mark in the WAC

The CBU women are picked to finish second behind NM State. Yes, the newest member of the WAC is picked ahead of schools that are the mainstays.

CBU forward De’jon Davis (35) led the WAC in rebounds and is set to have a huge year for the Lancers. Courtesy of the WAC.

This is due to the fact that since head coach Jarrod Olson took over seven years ago, the CBU women are 169-55. In its first season at the Division I level, CBU was 18-12 overall and 11-5 in WAC play. And in 2019-20, Olson has a WAC Player of the Year candidate in forward Britney Thomas. Thomas averaged a double-double in 2018-19 at 16 points and 11 rebounds per game. Add in that Thomas led the WAC in field goal percentage and you have a recipe for success. 

“It’s put us in a good spot because we have a culture for winning,” Olson said in regard to success at the DII level and now at the DI level. “It’s a good culture for a lot of different things and it’s a good place to go to school. CBU is a great school. Our team has been successful. So, we’re able to get people that want to come and be a part of that.”

Men’s head coach Rick Croy said similar things when asked about the culture of CBU.

“I think it’s real,” Croy said about the game day atmosphere. “We’ve got buy-in on all levels. Our community support has been tremendous. That’s something we were building back when we were in the Pac-West. Then there was a new enthusiasm about the CBU Events Center that increased our season-ticket holders. We’re getting more and more buy-in from our students on-campus. We’re going to keep building our student section. And we also have a unique location.”

Croy is going to depend on Preseason WAC Player of the Year Milan Acquaah. However, CBU also has De’jon Davis returning who led the WAC in rebounding a season ago. Add in Fairfield transfer Ferron Flavors Jr. and CBU is going to be dangerous in 2019-20. 

Leadership Easing the Way for NM State Head Coach

Chris Jans said it was a less stressful summer than in years past. That might seem strange considering Jans and his New Mexico State Aggies were coming off a heartbreaking loss to 5-seed Auburn in the NCAA Tournament. In fact, Jans didn’t even want to watch the game film. Even his assistants told him not to. However, he did, realized his team made way too many turnovers, and for one week of practice, his players probably hated him.

But, with a roster full of seniors, Jans has had no issue with players taking it easy or not working hard. It is due to his players holding each other accountable rather than coaches having to chime in. A.J. Harris, Shunn Buchanan and Terrell Brown are all players Jans says have been vocal leaders this offseason. According to Jans, it makes it easier to coach a team when that is happening. 

And while the ultimate goal for NM State in 2019-20 is to win NCAA Tournament games, Jans knows that the Aggies can’t take anything for granted. It is why Jans loves that he has an experienced group who has seen adversity first-hand. 

Unfortunately, since school started in August, the Aggies haven’t had a full practice. Injuries, while not significant, have plagued Aggie practices and kept Jans from installing everything that the new guys need to learn. One of the newcomers, East Carolina transfer Shawn Williams is a guy Jans is going to rely on but missed all summer. But, Jans said Williams can shoot it and has a proven track record of scoring. 

Either way you want to spin it, NM State is still the team to beat. And unless significant injuries hinder the Aggies, that doesn’t appear to change anytime soon.

Chicago State and Selling Recruits on Coming to the South Side

“If you’re as good as you think you are, come help me get some wins.”

Chicago State men’s basketball head coach Lance Irvin with a mic drop in regard to a recruiting pitch. And why not? It is something Irvin uses as a recruiting pitch to get players to one of the toughest places to sell: South Side Chicago.

Both Irvin and women’s head coach Misty Opat have unique ways of recruiting to Chicago State.

Chicago State women’s head coach Misty Opat is trying to change the culture on the South Side. Courtesy of the WAC.

Irvin with the approach that there is playing time to be had, opportunity to do something that hasn’t been done, and the pitch that if you are that good, come play for me and let’s shock the world and win some games. Opat uses a similar tactic in a different way. The second-year head coach who travels nearly two hours to work every day, lets players know they have an opportunity to be the change that Chicago State needs. That players coming to Chicago State can have a significant impact on what Chicago State does. 

Well, Opat is working some magic. Chicago State hosts Arizona of the PAC-12 Conference and Green Bay who won 22 games a season ago before losing in the WNIT. It is part of a home-and-home series. Did anyone ever think that a PAC-12 team would be going to Jones Convocation Center? 

Two coaches trying to change the culture of a program that hasn’t had a lot of success. It’s not a glamorous job but Opat and Irvin are excited and believe they have the players and ability to change the culture at Chicago State.

McCall Weighs In on Being a Basketball Parent and the WAC

CSU Bakersfield women’s coach Greg McCall has three children playing basketball at the highest of levels. One daughter plays in the WNBA. Another daughter used to play in the WNBA, who is now playing overseas. And his son Justin is a member of the CSU Bakersfield men’s basketball team. 

His youngest son plays high school ball back in Bakersfield, which leaves him watching it on video or stream when on the road. However, McCall makes it work and ensures that when he isn’t coaching, he is paying attention to his children.

“I’m always learning and critiquing them,” McCall said. “I’m still dad and I’m dad first and coach second. I’ve been so blessed … I’ve been blessed in where my kids listened to me, which has helped out with my program. They see my kids come into practice and I’m coaching them and it just helps our players … having the time do it all? I don’t know how I do it … now with social media, I’m watching games.”

McCall and the ‘Runners are in their final season as members of the WAC. And while the Big West might be a better fit, McCall understands that the WAC has helped his program grow into what it is now.

“Being a part of the WAC has been an honor and a privilege for us,” McCall said. “Some body that gave us an opportunity to get our program up and started. Making that long journey of being independent and just trying to find games throughout the whole entire season … it was tough. Then the WAC accepted us and we can’t thank them enough.” 

About the author

Kyle McDonald

Love everything about WAC Hoops so decided I wanted to write more about it and cover this amazing conference that just keeps getting better. Follow us on Twitter @wachoopsdigest for information, game analysis and much more.

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