| February 23, 2018

Men’s Basketball: Early-season optimism for the Vandals

It’s that time of year again.

Basketball season is right around the corner, and this year’s men are looking to build on a strong performance last year that saw the team finish 12-6 within the Big Sky and 21-13 overall.

The men’s basketball team returned to the court last week under bigger expectations than usual. This year’s squad features an astonishing six returning seniors, including every starter from last year’s team. With so much veteran leadership, the team should be able to develop chemistry and rhythm within the squad much quicker than most.

Head coach Don Verlin is going into his ninth year at the helm, and he has an unprecedented embarrassment of riches in leadership and experience.

“In my time being here, we’ve never had six seniors on a team,” Verlin said. “It’s just a huge advantage because these veterans can help coach up the younger guys and get the most out of them.”

All of that experience could pay big dividends for the Vandals this year. The team believes they can compete for a Big Sky conference title and also take a shot at the NCAA tournament.

“We’re hoping that all that leadership and hard work can propel us to a league championship and an appearance in the tournament,” Verlin said. “We’re going to have to win a bunch on the road while holding it down at home, and I think the Big Sky is as good as I’ve seen it.”

Hopefully all that competition and pressure from within the league can produce big results. The team is very aware of just how much work it will take to achieve their desired results, and the coaches and players are doing their best to hit the ground running.

“We have everything we need to work hard and make the tournament and win our conference,” senior guard Victor Sanders said. “We just have to do everything we can to prepare and work hard to take advantage of those opportunities.”

Sanders will be a key piece of this year’s puzzle. The senior was recognized on the All-Big Sky First Team and Big Sky All-Tournament Team last year, and he currently sits at second place in Idaho’s record books for three pointers in a career with 191.

The rest of Idaho’s senior leadership will also play big roles in the success of this year’s team and their lofty aspirations. Senior guard Perrion Callandret only played in two games last year before suffering a season-ending injury, but he is back and ready to keep building off strong freshman and sophomore years.

Last year’s junior-college transfer, senior forward Brayon Blake, is also primed for a big season after scoring double figures in more than half of last year’s games. Senior forward Arkadiy Mkrtychyan, senior guard Chad Sherwood and senior small forward Jordan Scott will continue to to provide steady production for the team, and each has the ability and experience to take over a game when necessary.

Fans won’t know for sure if this team is the real deal until the season really starts, but the optimism at practice and around town has thoroughly backed up this year’s squad.

“We’ve gotta compete everyday to get better in order to get those end results we want,” Sanders said. Come March, all that hard work and veteran leadership could turn into some very impressive results.

The Vandals open the regular season Nov. 10 at Nevada-Reno.

Jonah Baker can be reached at arg-sports@uidaho.edu or on Twitter @jonahpbaker

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