BROOKINGS, S.D. (KELO)- SDSU reached the NCAA tournament three years straight prior to last season where the Jacks lost in the opening round of the Summit League Tournament. Following last season, the Jacks graduated some of the best players in school history and lost head coach T.J. Otzelberger who left State for a job at UNLV. Now, the Jacks have a new head coach, and that is former associate head coach, Eric Henderson.
“We all love and have tremendous confidence in coach Henderson and the rest of the coaches on the coaching staff. For those that have met coach Henderson know that he’s a pretty upbeat guy and brings a lot of energy, so in practice, we kind of feed off of his energy actually,” SDSU Sophomore guard Alex Arians said.
This year’s Jacks will have a different identity than previous teams, as SDSU is keeping their focus on themselves.
“This is a team that is pretty inexperienced, but their willingness to compete like crazy, willingness to make a mistake, but also learn from that mistake is pretty special. The growth that we’ve seen, even from this summer, has been tremendous,” SDSU Head Coach Eric Henderson said.
Last season, the Jackrabbits were led by Mike Daum who averaged over 25 points per game and David Jenkins who averaged nearly 20 points per game, however this year’s team will be much different when it comes to scoring.
“Obviously, there has been some big time players and tremendous scorers like Mike Daum, David (Jenkins Jr.), Nate Wolters, but there have also been teams that have been extremely successful where their leading scorer had just over fourteen points a game. So I do see this team as a much more balanced team,” Henderson said.
“This year, you probably won’t see guys scoring 25 or 30 points as guys like last year, like Mike, Sky (Skyler Flatten), David were doing that. I think on offense this year, you’ll probably see more of an even team, you’ll probably see five, six, seven guys in that eight to fourteen point range in terms of offense, which is a little different from last year,” Arians said.
The Jackrabbits have built a winning tradition in Brookings as State has reached five NCAA tournaments in the last eight seasons.
“I love the tradition and history of Jackrabbit basketball and there’s a lot of different ways to win and just because we don’t have that elite scorer, doesn’t mean that you lose your core values. We’re going to be selfless, we’re going to work together, we’re going to play for each other and that’s what made this place special,” Henderson said.
“We know the standards and the tradition of winning here at SDSU, but at the end of the day, we know that if we’re coming in, competing and we’re constanly going up and bringing our level of play up that winning is sort of a product of all that and we know that we’ll be successful if we just continue to work on the things we can control every day in practice,” Arians said.
In previous seasons, the Jacks have been able to say that experience was their strength, but this season’s team has a strength of it’s own.
“I think the strength of this team is it’s togetherness, it’s competitive spirit, selflessness and like I’ve said, we don’t have that just elite scorer, so it’s going to be a by committee process. You’re going to see different guys step up every single night and you’re going to see their teammates embrace them and that’s what makes this place special and that’s what makes this team special,” Henderson said.
“Probably just use one word and that’s selflessness. We’ve got a lot of guys who are selfless and put this team above what they want and you’ll see us all giving each other high fives, cheering each other up and picking each other up,” Arians said.
The Jackrabbits will open the year with an exhibition game against Mount Marty in Brookings on October 30. The first game of the season is in Brookings on November 5 against UT Rio Grande Valley.