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By Liz Alper
For video of Anthony Luke and Kahale Warring's portion of the press conference, click "read more" and scroll down.
October 30, 2018 (San Diego) - SDSU men’s basketball begins their season on Thursday against Chaminade. Today, SDSU men’s basketball head coach Brian Dutcher and senior guard Jeremy Hemsley sat down with the media, as well as football coach Rocky Long, senior defensive end Anthony Luke and junior tight end Kahale Warring.
“...We’re excited to get the exhibition part of our schedule going this Thursday with Chaminade coming to town.” Dutcher opened with. “Everyone knows we had a close scrimmage against USC. It was great to see our guys against someone else other than ourselves...We’re excited to get our young guys in front of a crowd. Jeremy and Devin, my senior guards, experienced that, but to put the young guys out with the bright lights in front of the Viejas crowd, it’s going to be exciting to see how they respond to that. We’ll kick off the exhibition game on Thursday and then start the regular season Tuesday against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.”
SDSU is participating in the Maui Invitational again this season and it’s going to be tough. Dutcher previewed the field. “...Maui this year is an elite eight. We open with Duke and then we’ll have the winner or loser of Auburn-Xavier and then the other side is Arizona-Gonzaga, Illinois and Iowa State. So, it’s an elite eight field and that’s exciting for us and will give us an opportunity to see where we are as a program early in the season. Regardless of what happens there, the season lays in front of us. Obviously, everything we do is to get ready for the conference season so it’ll give us a good early test to see where we are as a team and what we have to work on.”
Dutcher scouted the freshmen. “...I asked them early when they got here, ‘How do freshman play here at San Diego State?’ I got the answer I wanted as I work with them: they defend. They defend. That’s how you get on the floor as a freshman, you play great defense. So I wanted them to have a defensive mindset, not thinking they had to come out here and score 20 points to find their way on the floor. They have to come in there and defend at an elite level that we have over the years and let their offense come.”
Dutcher talked about the challenges that come with coaching new players. “Some of them, they’re really long and athletic so they have always been the biggest guy on the team, but that doesn’t mean they’re the biggest guy on this team. They might have guarded the center their whole career and now they’re guarding a small forward or they’re guarding an athletic guard. Six-six isn’t the tallest kid on the team anymore and so they have to guard on the perimeter, they have to move their feet, they have to stay in front of people. [With] the bigs, the adjustment is, bigs play on eggshells in high school. Every time they turn and someone falls down, it’s a foul. So now they get to use those bodies that they’ve been blessed with and play a more physical brand of basketball, so that’s an adjustment. So lots of adjustments, but I like the way they’re learning. I thought they did a good job up at USC in their first action against someone other than ourselves and I think they’re going to all contribute.”
How are the new kids doing? “I think they’ve all impressed me. They’re all different. We haven’t had Nathan Mensah because he had a finger injury that he’ll have re-evaluated on Thursday, so hopefully he’ll be cleared to start practicing, but he hasn’t really been involved in a full practice in four weeks. I’m excited to get Nathan back. Joel (Mensah) has done a good job, you know, he does what he does. He does Joel. He shoots the 15-foot jump shot in. He shoots it every time he gets it and he’s confident in it. At USC, he made four of them, they all went in and so our kids were excited for him. That’s the best part when the kids are excited for another. Ed Chang is a very good three-point shooter that is trying to catch up to speed on defense at the college level. Aguek Arop is long and is probably the most-able to contribute right away, in my estimation, because he guards at a level and he rebounds. He’s a special rebounder. He goes every time. He’s long. He’s got a seven-one wingspan and he’s the most versatile probably to help us at both ends. I think they’re all able to contribute. I think Adam Seiko, our redshirt-freshman from last year, was a little nervous in the first half at USC but settled in and made a couple threes and guarded like I knew he could guard. They’re all feeling their way and they’re gaining my confidence, which is the most important thing.”
Hemsley agreed. “I think they’re doing good. It’s always nerve-racking as a freshman just to be in this process and leading up to that first game, but I think they’re doing a good job. I think they’re mature for their age and wise beyond their years and I think that they’ve done a good of just listening to the older guys on the team and buying into what the coaches are saying. I really do think that they’re going to do a good job of helping the team this year, for sure."
Guard Devin Watson is a senior this year. Dutcher told us what he expects from him. “Be a great leader. Take care of the basketball. Get assists. We know Devin is a scoring point guard, so as a coach you always walk the line—you want a scoring point guard, and that’s what he is, a scoring point guard—so there are times that he’s going to take some shots that are going to be difficult...Devin is going to take some hard shots, but I want him confident. I want all my guys confident. As long as we have more assisted baskets than we did last year, then I’m going to be happy.”
Dutcher talked about how junior transfer guard Malachi Flynn is doing after his transfer from Washington State. “He’s an elite-level scorer, so Jeremy is going to be guarding, in practice, maybe the best guard he’s going to face all year, in practice every day. I know Jeremy makes his life tough. Jeremy is an elite defender. To go against Malachi every day, to have to guard him, is going to help Jeremy get better. Malachi can score the ball. It will be a long year for him, obviously, to sit a full year knowing that you’re a really good player is tough on anybody, but it helps his coach sleep at night knowing that when Jeremy and Devin graduate, I’ll have a fourth-year junior guard to step into a prominent role on the team next year.”
Dutcher spoke on if one aspect of the team is ahead of the other at the moment. I think the defense is ahead of the offense right now, in my opinion. We spend a lot of time on the defense like we always do, but offensively, the young guys are still trying to learn where they’re supposed to be. So sometimes, they’re in the wrong spot. We give them some freedom – our offense is freedom within framework – so we have some things that we want, but ultimately you end up having to play the game and stay out of each other’s way. Sometimes I look up and the freshmen are in someone’s way, trying to please me, but in the wrong spot. That just comes with time and experience. The more we play, the more they get comfortable, the better we’ll be offensively...Like I said, we have 11 eligible players, and eight of them are freshmen or sophomores, so it’s a lot of youth on the floor at any moment. As they get more comfortable and play with greater confidence, then I think the offense will catch up.”
Hemsley talked about being a senior. “It’s crazy because thinking back to my freshman year, I couldn’t even think this far ahead. I never even thought of my senior year. I’m just trying to stay in the moment and just appreciate everything that’s here because it goes by so fast, and all of this could be taken away from me tomorrow, so I’m just trying to enjoy the moment and enjoy being around my coaches and my teammates. Like you said, it’s surreal. I can’t believe that I’m a senior, but I know it will be a memorable one because I feel the best I’ve ever felt. I’m just taking everything a day at a time and I’m really enjoying it.”
SDSU takes on Chaminade Thursday at 7:00 p.m.
Meanwhile on the football side of things, the Aztecs suffered a 28-24 loss to Nevada in Reno on Saturday night. Coach Long, senior defensive end Anthony Luke and junior tight end Kahale Warring spoke with the media today.
“Once again another conference game, so it’s very important," Long said of this Saturday's game at New Mexico. . My estimation is it’s going to be a really, really close game because that’s all we play are close games. And in that case, whoever makes a play or doesn’t make a play toward the end of the game will decide who wins. They’ve come back from a bad loss last week and they have switched some things up. I don’t know what they are other than they have a new starting quarterback. The quarterback who played most of the second half in last week’s game (Coltin Gerhart) is going to start for them this week. We’re just guessing, but the offense is going to change a little bit, too. So on defense, we have to prepare for two different types of quarterbacks. On offense, we don’t know exactly how they’ll line up, but most of the time we don’t know how they’ll line up against us because very few people are in the I-formation anymore.”
BREAKING NEWS: Christian Chapman WILL play on Saturday, according to Long. “Ryan Agnew is going to start, but...Christian Chapman will play. It hasn’t been determined exactly when yet, but he will play at least one series in the first half. We’ll evaluate how he looks and how he does, then develop a plan. If he’s a hundred percent, then maybe even in the second half some things could change. But Ryan will start (and) somewhere in the first half Christian will go in and we’ll see how he looks, see if he’s a hundred percent or not.”
Long says Chapman is doing better in practice. “...Obviously, we don’t hit him, but he looks better in practice. He seems to be moving around okay. Whether he’s 100 percent or not, we’ll find out when things get to be full speed. We’ll find out quick.”
Despite all this, Long says Chapman won't get the starting role even if he's 100 percent healthy. “...we’re going to determine that after we see what he’s like.”
Long told us where the Aztecs are physically and emotionally. “I think when you win and lose games, there’s a lot of emotion involved ... We are who we are. We are very, very young and inexperienced, which makes us very inconsistent on the football field. But we have some young talent and we have some guys playing who were backups. They play really, really hard and they try their darnedest, but we make so many mistakes. Even when we play well, we can’t play well for the whole game. We have peaks and we have valleys. When we have valleys, they (the opposition) go ahead or get back into the game and when we have peaks, we look pretty darn good. But that’s not going to change. That’s not changing. As soon as we lost a few guys and we started playing (a lot of) freshmen, that’s what we get and that’s not going to change for the rest of the year.
Long praised backup quarterback Ryan Agnew. “I think he’s played pretty well. I think he’s just like the rest of the guys on our team who are not veteran players. I mean, even though he’s been around a while, he hasn’t played extensively until the last few weeks. He’s made a lot of plays to help us win, okay. He didn’t get it done last week, but he’s made a plays to help us win. There are a lot of things that are keeping it close, too.”
Warring agreed. “I think he’s done a really good job. He’s been through a lot of tough situations and got us through a lot of tough situations. There’s a lot of games where if he didn’t make plays at the end, we might not have won those games. Every single game we’ve had has been close and he’s done a great job so far.”
Long evaluated his defense. “I think we’re playing ok on defense. Statistically, we’re playing really good on defense other than one thing—and that’s the biggest key to us winning and losing—it’s turnover ratio...I think we have [seven] interceptions and we only have one fumble recovery. In the past, our turnover ratio’s been really good because we don’t turn it over much on offense and we’ve caused a bunch of turnovers on defense. But this year, we have not. I don’t think we’re turning it over any more on offense, but we’re not causing nearly as many on defense. But yardage and those kinds of things, we’re playing much better than we did last year. Points, we’re playing better than we did last year. Yardage, rush defense, all those things, we’re playing better than last year. We’re just not causing any turnovers. We’re not giving our offense a chance on a short field.”
Luke gave his opinion on what needs to happen to force more turnovers. “Effort to the ball. If we get all 11 hats to the ball, it creates the opportunity to cause a turnover. If you put a helmet on every part of the ball carrier, you’re going to have a chance to pop the ball out. I think we just need to have more effort as a unit. There was a lot of time in the game (at Nevada) that we thought the ball carrier was tackled and we let up. If we all ran to the ball and continue to the ball, we’d have more opportunities to pop the ball out. It all comes down to effort.”
Luke talked about the challenges New Mexico poses. “The biggest challenge is that they are fast. They’re coming together as a team. It’s going to be another challenge (for us). It’s all about us right now. We just have to be consistent in all aspects of the game to get it rolling. They are making moves with their quarterback change. It’s any given Saturday. We did not play how we needed to (last week).”
Do the Aztecs play with a chip on their shoulder after a loss? “Always after a loss there’s a chip on our shoulder. We didn’t win the physical battle (against Nevada) and that’s a key to San Diego State football. We always want to be physical team on the field. We need to get back to what we do best and that is to be the most physical team.”
Warring echoed simply: "...We don’t take losses lightly here. We had a really high intense practice yesterday and we’ll be ready for this game.”
So what happend Saturday night? “I think when we started the game we had a lot fire and energy. We got complacent and too comfortable with the lead. We kind of got distracted and maybe thought (getting the win was going to easy). I didn’t think everyone was focused at halftime. That needs to change. We need to be able to keep the pressure up and impose our will for all four quarters of the game. That’s something as a team I don’t think we’ve done this season and we have the opportunity to be a great football team if we do.”
SDSU takes on the Lobos Saturday in New Mexico at 8:15 p.m. MT/7:00 p.m. PT.