The Idaho men’s basketball team battled through an injury-riddled 2015-2016 season to earn the third seed in the Big Sky Conference Championship and a postseason invitation.
This year, the program set its sights set even higher.
“We always expect to be right at the top of the conference,” Idaho head coach Don Verlin said. “Last year we were picked down in the conference, but I thought one of the things our guys did was believe that they were conference contenders. And that’s the same thing this year.”
A preseason coaches poll projects the Vandals to finish second in conference standings, after the team received 104 points and a first place vote. Idaho takes the court after a 21-13 season and an appearance in the College Basketball Invitational last season.
“I thought we had a great offseason,” Verlin said. “Our guys did a great job — right from the spring season all the way into the summer, and that was highlighted by our foreign trip to China. I thought it gave our team the chance to gel and become a better basketball team.”
The Vandals return four of five starters from last year’s squad, including senior guard Perrion Callandret and Big Sky Preseason All-Conference junior guard Victor Sanders. The duo led Idaho in scoring, with Sanders and Callandret averaging 15.9 and 14.0 points respectively.
“I think it’s important that we stay on that level of the relationship that we’ve got,” Sanders said. “With (Callandret) being a senior and me a junior, when we push each other it allows the younger guys and new guys to see how hard you have to work. I think we try to set that example every day in practice.”
Freshmen guards Trevon Allen and Chance Garvin will also take the hardwood this season, along with junior forward Brayon Blake. The North Idaho College transfer averaged 21.2 points per game and finished the season as a Third Team NJCAA All-American.
“Brayon has the ability to help our team right from the very first game on,” Verlin said. “He’s a very good rebounder, he can score his ball and he plays with a tremendous amount of energy. He’s probably the best communicator we have on the team right now as far as getting out on the court and talking and bringing energy.”
The Vandals enter the season in search of a third perimeter player to fill the role left behind by senior guard Chris Sarbaugh. The graduate led the team with 109 assists and 33 steals.
“We lost a couple of great guys, especially Chris Sarbaugh who came in as a transfer,” Callandret said. “He came in and had a big impact from the beginning. But now it’s up to us upperclassmen to fill that role too.”
The Vandals open the preseason with a pair of exhibition games. Idaho takes on Carroll College at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Memorial Gym and hosts in-state rival Lewis-Clark State College Nov. 5.
Josh Grissom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @GoshJrissom