photos courtesy of Bob Paz
PASADENA, Calif. - At first glance, one may think Caltech doesn't have a chance to be successful. With a closer look, however, the fan-to-be may be surprised with what is unfolding on the picturesque campus in Pasadena.
The Beavers endured a winless season in 2009-10, yet they set a combined 13 team and individual program records -- with 11 freshmen on the roster. Caltech enters the 2010-11 season with a roster full of substantial minutes played. Coach Oliver Eslinger and his staff are excited to work with an army of returners this year, and anticipate a much more competitive team, both in practices and in games.
"To have a core of veterans back, though mainly sophomores, is such a great feeling," said Eslinger. "These are guys dedicated to developing our program who have a much better sense of what it takes to compete at this level."
For the first time in the history of Caltech hoops, the lineup is loaded with true basketball experience. Two seasons ago, less than half the team's members could even claim being on their respective high school squads. This season, the roster includes an abundance of players who were named all-league in high school along with being legitimate starters. Witness the evolution.
Back are all five starters that not only helped the Beaver defense hold opponents to 32 percent shooting from the 3-point line and account for a school record 3.7 blocked shots per game, but set the mark for team field goal attempts in a season.
Senior Ryan Elmquist (Woodbury, Minn.) led the SCIAC in blocked shots (2.0 bpg) on his way to breaking the all-time season mark in that category set by Ben Turk in 1998. With a career-high five blocks against nationally ranked Chapman University and four blocks in five other contests, the 6-5 forward earned his way to 38th in the country in blocked shots. Named to the NABC Honors Court and the SCIAC All-Academic team, the Computer Science major - who interned at Apple this past summer - was recognized as Caltech's Male Athlete of the Year. Elmquist (12.8 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 2.0 bpg) recorded three double-doubles and reached double figures in scoring 19 times as a junior. The two-time captain also set the Caltech record for free throws attempted in one season (208), eclipsing the mark set by former all-conference honoree Bryan Hires in 2008.
The leading scorer from last year returns in the form of 6-7 sophomore Mike Edwards (Canyon Country, Calif.). Edwards, who set six Caltech records last year, was named SCIAC Athlete of the Week in January, and finished second in the conference in points per game (18.8), steals per game (1.8), and 3-pointers made per game (2.5). He etched his name in the Caltech history book for 3-pointers made in a game (7) and season (62). Furthermore, he shot 78 percent from the free throw line. For much of the season, Edwards drew double- and triple-teams and still finished just 10 points shy of breaking Caltech's single season scoring record of 479 set by senior Jordan Carlson in 2008.
Sophomores Ethan Boroson (Tucson, Ariz.) and Collin Murphy (Wasilla, Alaska), both named captains, return to form a solid playmaking duo. Boroson (4.0 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.3 apg), a 6-2 versatile guard with forward capabilities, appeared in only eight games as a freshman due to health reasons but returns as a crafty vet. Meanwhile, Murphy (3.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.4 spg) capitalized on his outstanding leadership skills to direct the Beavers' offense for much of the season. At 6-0, the former all-state quarterback placed eighth in conference games in assists per game (2.4) and 18th in rebounds with 4.5 boards per game.
"Ever since last season ended, I've been waiting to return to play with my teammates and the talented recruits that we hosted throughout the year," said Murphy. "And as the youngest team in the country last year, we have a lot to look forward to. The program is definitely on the rise."
On the perimeter, Mason Freedman (Falls Church, Va.) returns with a smooth shooting touch and much experience as a starter. Freedman, a 6-0 sophomore guard who came on strong during conference play, scored a career-high 16 points versus Cal Lutheran and started 12 contests as a freshman.
Six-foot-five sophomore forward/center Alex Runkel (Villingen-Schwenningen, Germany) anchors the paint and provides athleticism and strength all over the court. His 4.4 points and 4.5 rebounds per game (17th in SCIAC) gives the Beavers added balance. With a year of college experience under his belt, Runkel is poised to be a double-double guy.
Sophomore guard Pan Wang (Germantown, Md.), junior forward Marcus Lucas (Lacey, Wash.), and senior guard Ziying Wang (Rowland Heights, Calif.) round out the core returners. Pan Wang and Lucas are extremely athletic and explosive and will add needed depth with scoring and rebounding. Ziying Wang is a four-year player and one of only two seniors on the squad. Sophomores Arjun Chandar and Christophe Kunesh are also back after much improvement in their first year.
"It will be exciting to see how our relatively young team continues to rapidly mature after many first-year players gained so much experience last season," said Elmquist.
In the second time in as many years, another solid recruiting class is making its way around Southern California. The new players provide much desired versatility and they arrive from extremely successful high school programs.
"Our second recruiting class is fabulous and fills many needs," said Eslinger. "These guys know what it takes to build a program. They are leaders who not only love the game, but play it very well."
Todd Cramer is a 6-4 do-it-all player from Chestnut Hill Academy (Ambler, Pa.). As a senior, the three-year varsity athlete averaged 14 points, eight rebounds and five assists per game for a team that won the Inter-AC for the first time and finished the year ranked ninth in the state. A Hoop Group MVP, Prize Recruits Top 100 selection, and winner of the Markwood Club Ferguson Academic Award, Cramer was named first team all-league and garnered Philadelphia all-city honors as a senior.
Six-foot-two Mike Paluchniak (Oostburg, Wisc.) joins the Beavers from Oostburg High School and possesses a wealth of experience, a sharp shot, and a tremendous basketball IQ. Paluchniak (5.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 1.9 apg, 1.7 spg) guided his team to the state playoffs and a top 10 state ranking while being named all-conference, academic all-state, and runner-up as student-athlete of the year. He can play multiple positions and is a terrific defensive player.
Will Dooris (Canberra, Australia) brings international sophistication and a deft shooting touch after spending much of his high school days at Narrabundah College on the continent down under. As an Australian Capital Territory representative for national tournaments, Dooris played in both the under-18 Championships and under-20 Championships, and led all players in 3-point percentage. A Basketball Australia NITP Scholarship Holder in 2008 and 2009, he averaged 12.5 points and 3.2 rebounds per game as a two-time captain for the Canberra Association.
Brian Okoro (Chino, Calif.) rounds out the class and adds a multitude of talent after stints of AAU basketball. He possesses powerful athleticism and an explosive first step that will be developed into productive offensive skills and pressure defense.
"With many new players actively contributing to the team, we have to quickly gel," added Elmquist. "I'm looking forward to working with another strong incoming class."
In addition to the solid student-athlete core, a hardened coaching staff returns. Jon-Michael Sanchez is in his second year while Jamayne Potts and Craig Heffernan enter their third campaigns with the Beavers. Dennis McCreary '65 is back for his 48th season.
"We're now at a point that breeds consistency and understanding of our system," explained Eslinger. "People are pumped about the direction of our program, as witnessed by the recent Midnight Madness celebration. It's a true community."
The Beavers open this season's slate in Wisconsin at the Milwaukee School of Engineering Tip-Off Tournament on November 20. This is the program's first trip in years, and the team is looking forward to the extra bonding time.
"The great aspect about basketball at Caltech is we are a family, not just another team," said Edwards.