Oct. 22, 2010
RUSTON, La. -Fresh off leading the Bulldogs to their most wins in 25 years, Louisiana Tech head coach Kerry Rupp start's his fourth season in Ruston with almost an entirely different team.
Gone is 67 percent of the scoring and 57 percent of the rebounding from last year's squad that competed in the postseason for the first time in four years (CollegeInsider.com Tournament) and finished with a record of 24-11. However, the cupboard isn't completely bare for Rupp and his staff.
For most coaches, if they could choose the positions for their top two returners it would be at point guard and at the post position. Louisiana Tech has just that in senior guard DeAndre Brown and junior forward Olu Ashaolu.
"It's huge," said Rupp on having experience in the perimeter as well as the post. "On any great team you want to have a good inside and outside presence. When you return a dominant forward and a very good point guard, you have the chance to have a pretty good team."
To supplement the loss of six letterwinners, Rupp and his staff brought in nine newcomers. While it will take a while for each new Bulldog to find his spot on the team, Rupp is confident that the four college transfers brought in will make an immediate impact.
"We are excited about the mixture of college transfers we have who give us a big, strong and physical presence inside. Then we have a group of talented young high school recruits as well," Rupp said.
Brown returns for his second and final season at Louisiana Tech as the only senior on the team. The 5-11 guard was a member of the Western Athletic Conference all-Newcomer Team last season. He averaged 10.6 points and 3.9 assists while leading the Bulldogs to its highest scoring output in eight years (73.1 points per game).
Along with Brown, sophomores Darius Redding, Justin Rake and Tevin Hall return to add experience to the position. All three made their first collegiate shot attempts, and each brings something different to the court.
Redding is as athletic as they come and improved game-by-game last season as he adjusted to the college game. The 6-4 wing-type guard averaged 2.4 points and shot 47 percent, the second-highest mark on the team.
Rake and Hall hold something in common besides earning walk-on spots last season. Both will be counted on to produce this season, especially early on as the newcomers adjust to the collegiate game.
"We are going to have to rely on some of our walk-ons that contributed last year to help us out," Rupp said. "I think a combination of getting those walk-ons to contribute immediately and getting the junior college guys to step in will really improve our team. We have a good core of guys returning."
Rake is a shooting guard that averaged one point a game in limited minutes last season. Hall was a perfect four-for-four from the field including one three-pointer in eight games played last season. He played more in the latter part of the season including a high of nine minutes in Tech's final game of the season, a CIT quarterfinal game at Missouri State.
Another key returner is Brandon Gibson. The sophomore suffered a foot injury in practice prior to the team's first game last season and took a redshirt. As a freshman, Gibson averaged 2.5 points per game.
"We are excited about Bandon," Rupp said. "He had a solid year in terms of getting stronger and becoming quicker after his injury." Five freshmen will look to get playing time in the Tech backcourt including Stojan Gjuroski (Gostivar, Macedonia), Cordarius Johnson (Coushatta, La.), Kenyon McNeaill (Conway, Ark.), CJ Scott (Milford, Del.) and Lonnie Smith (Birmingham, Ala).
Ashaolu has improved every season in a Bulldog uniform and with the departure of Magnum Rolle, will be looked on to be a leader as the most veteran player on this year's team.
Last season, Ashaolu recorded 10 double-doubles while averaging 10.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. Motivated by Rolle being selected in the 2010 NBA Draft, Ashaolu committed himself this offseason to get in better shape and improve on his strong sophomore campaign.
A big difference between this year and last year is depth. The addition of James Johnson (Los Angeles, Calif.) and transfers J.L. Lewis (University of New Orleans), Antwond Roshell (John A. Logan College) and Romario Souza (College of Southern Idaho) will help keep fresh bodies on the court. Tech will also have more height as Souza is listed at 6-10, Roshell at 6-9, Lewis at 6-8 and Johnson at 6-7.
"With the returners we have coming back and the newcomers that were added, we will have more depth," Rupp said. "Now we just have to develop the talent. We are definitely going to be up tempo and play an aggressive style of basketball."
Similar to last season, Tech's schedule consists of an in-season tournament, in-state opponents and a big-time road game. Of the 15 non-conference games, nine of them will take place in Louisiana or Texas.
The Bulldog's most difficult test is in the team's first game of the season, a trip to Austin, Texas to face the Longhorns on Nov. 10 in the first game of the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer.
"I am honored to play at the University of Texas against a premiere program and to participate in a game that represents such a great cause," Rupp said. "We wanted to start out with a very challenging opponent so we have something to shoot for right from the beginning. It gives us a chance immediately to find out what we are all about."
The Bulldogs open their home schedule against Austin College on Nov. 13 before hosting Houston on Nov. 17. The game against the Cougars will be the second 2010 NCAA Tournament team they will face in three games. Tech then heads to Irvine, Calif. to continue play in the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer where it will face Seattle, Navy and UC Irvine Nov. 19-21.
On Nov. 26, the Bulldogs play at UALR before hosting SMU (Dec. 1) and I-20 rival Louisiana-Monroe (Dec. 4). They continue play in-state with road contests at Northwestern State (Dec. 7) and McNeese Sate (Dec. 11) before traveling to face Houston Baptist on Dec. 14. Rupp holds a 12-3 record all-time against teams from the state of Louisiana.
Tech plays on Dec. 18 as UT-Arlington comes to the Thomas Assembly Center. The Bulldogs then play at Iowa on Dec. 21 prior to opening conference play at Boise State on Dec. 29.
However, Tech's non-conference schedule doesn't stop there. After the Bulldog's game against New Mexico State on Feb. 12, Tech plays at North Dakota on Feb. 16 and then hosts an ESPN BracketBuster game on Feb. 19 against an opponent yet to be determined.
For the first time since Louisiana Tech has been a member of the WAC, the conference tournament is at a neutral location. The tournament will be held in Las Vegas, Nev. on March 9-12.
After back-to-back seasons that saw nine-win improvements, Rupp looks to sustain the success of last season. Despite losing three key starters, this season's team has more depth and height than Rupp has ever had while at Tech.
"I think the goal now is to stay, in the 20-win range," Rupp said. "We want to stay in the top half of the league, win a championship and get to postseason play. We have a core group returning and are adding some junior college kids, who can make an immediate impact. It all depends on our physical presence inside, how well we develop the newcomers and how quickly they adjust."