Posted: Nov 02, 2017
PASADENA (Nov. 2, 2017) – For a men's basketball program to graduate its winningest senior class in school history, the idea would appear to indicate tougher times ahead the following season. That will be not the case for Head Coach Dr. Oliver Eslinger and the Caltech men's basketball team in the 2017-18 season. In fact, the youthful bunch which includes just one senior and no juniors are eager to continue to build on the foundation that Eslinger has helped foster as he enters his 10th season with the team.
The Beavers finished the prior season fifth in the SCIAC, just four games out of the coveted fourth-place position that would also have meant the program s first-ever SCIAC Tournament berth. Led by newly minted member of Al-Sadd Sports Club and seventh all-time leading rebounder Nasser Al-Rayes '17 in addition to departed seniors Ricky Galliani '17 and David LeBaron '17, the Beavers turned a corner when the SCIAC portion of the schedule hit. They picked up key wins over Pomona-Pitzer Colleges on Senior Night, no less, Occidental College and nearly upset then-Division III No. 16 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges in Braun Gymnasium on Feb. 2. While the senior trio certainly left their mark as four-year contributors to the team, as Eslinger puts it, "there is no rebuild, only build."
"We've never stopped building," Eslinger said. "Togetherness fuels the philosophy of group dynamics; staying together, being there for each other, trusting each other and motivating others and yourself to pick up the slack when needed will be conducive to the success that comes our way. I think this is the tightest group we have had in terms of working together and believing in each other. They're energetic with each other, really talkative and engaging with one another like we will need them to."
The presence of just one senior means Eslinger will be working with the youngest group he has ever fielded in his 10 years with the program. The lone senior is David Kawashima (Studio City, Calif. / North Hollywood), a scrappy guard/forward who can score in spurts but will likely be tasked with taking on the opposition's top scorer and creating offense on the counter attack. Kawashima missed a handful of games last year with a minor injury but recovered to play a key role for the Beavers down the stretch. His best game came in the team's third Occidental meeting: a 12-and-12 double-double. Caltech will need him to be an asset on and off the court as the team's lone upperclassman presence.
"David has been a great leader so far," Eslinger said. "He cares about this team a lot and he has put in a lot of work in the offseason too, so we are expecting big things from him."
Behind Kawashima is a youthful team not light on sophomores. Second-year players make up half of the Beavers lineup and all six of them will be expected to fill featured roles, particularly in the scoring department. The bulk of Caltech's scoring last season came from a group of four players, all of whom averaged at least 10 points per game.
With none of those players returning, the Beavers will look to sophomore guard Alec Andrews (Folsom, Calif. / Folsom), who averaged 7.9 points per game over last year's 25-game schedule. Andrews also finished the season as the SCIAC's second-leading assists leader (3.3 per game) and finished second on the team in minutes. He is able to contribute in a number of different ways, and that led to him being leaned on heavily by Eslinger and his coaching staff in year one.
"Alec started every game last year for us," Eslinger said. "We want him to have expanded his game and be more dynamic."
The remaining trio of guards contributed in bunches last year and all are expected to take on expanded roles this year. Sophomore point guard Michael Li (Bryn Mawr, Pa. / Radnor) came off the bench to work in with Andrews acting as more of a freelance shooting guard and played meaningful minutes against some of the top guards of the SCIAC. Another guard, sophomore Bret Johnson (Carlsbad, Calif. / Santa Fe Christian) played similar minutes to Li and was utilized as a bench scoring option. Sophomore Roshan Bal (Saratoga, Calif. / Pinewood School), meanwhile will be tasked with playing a similar role to Johnson last year while giving the Beavers some energy and scoring off the bench.
"Mike is going to be counted on to be a leader and extension of our coaching staff out on the floor," Eslinger said. "He is a highly aggressive defender and want him to be able to play make for everybody else. Bret is a really hard worker and we need him to be able to score for us and defend at a high level, which he can do. Roshan can really shoot it as well so hopefully he'll get a real shot this year to showcase that part of his game."
A big key for the uncharacteristically small Beavers (only three players exceed 6-foot-4) will be finding a combination in the front court that is going to pay dividends. Sophomore pair Ross Carter (Sudbury, Mass. / The Rivers School) and Calvin Huh (Fort Lee, N.J. / Bergen Tech) both saw minutes last season, especially as the year wore on and the duo grew more comfortable in Eslinger's system. With a year to study the success Al-Rayes and LeBaron had down low last year however, Eslinger believes both players are well equipped to handle an increased workload and have all the intangibles he looks for as leaders and contributors.
"Ross and Calvin learned a lot last year from Nasser and LeBaron," Eslinger said. "They know as sophomores the time is now to get in there and get lots of reps. Going against each other and playing with each other, they have both had some impressive moments in practice. I expect them to be our force in the paint and around the rim but I have seem good things and we will count on them."
Ross was a great leader as a freshman and it's more apparent now. He communicates well and tries to put people in the right places. Calvin has shown some moments of offensive and defensive skills he didn't show last year so we're excited for them to show what they can do."
Perhaps the greatest amount of intrigue surrounding the 2017 Beavers is how the incoming freshman class will fit into the equation. Eslinger made it a point to bring in talented guards that come from winning cultures and new additions Matthew Riker (Bethlehem, N.Y. / Bethlehem Central), Gokul Srinivasaragavan (San Ramon, Calif. / Dougherty Valley) and Marcus Gee (Santa Monica, Calif. / Santa Monica) all fit the bill. Spencer Schneider (Houston, Texas / Clear Brook), a 6-foot-6 forward could join Huh and Carter as front court contributors but has the versatility to play positionless basketball anywhere on the court. The skilled and disciplined quartet may yet be the answer to Caltech's scoring questions.
"The freshman are all really, really good," Eslinger said. "They all know what it takes to contribute to a winning program. Matt is a gritty and smart point guard who led his team, my alma mater in New York to the state tournament for the first time since 1972. He knows how to lead and is very coachable. Gokul is a combo-guard who can shoot, has quickness and can defend at a high level, so he is dynamic in that sense. Marcus can shoot it, has basketball IQ and can do a lot all over the court. Spencer is able to play every position and has a relentless attitude on the court.
"We will need to count on all of them."
The turnover of talent is not limited to the roster. Eslinger will feature three new assistants on his staff this year, including Derek Glasser, a four-year starter at Arizona State under Herb Sendek, Vanderbilt-alum Eli Horowitz and Syracuse-alum Andy Sherman. Spencer Levy, a 2016 graduate of Occidental will return to Eslinger's staff for his second season with Caltech. All of Eslinger's assistants should bring something unique to the table.
"Our assistants come from all different backgrounds," Eslinger said. "They all put in the time and all have a love of basketball in common. We just look for them to bring energy and ideas in addition to fulfilling all the tasks we need to field a high-level program."
Eslinger and the Beavers head to NAIA Master's University to take on the Mustangs in an exhibition game on Saturday, Nov. 4 at 7 p.m., then host an exhibition against Vanguard University on Tuesday, Nov. 7 at 6 p.m. Caltech will then travel to Occidental for the annual 110 Freeway Rivalry to officially open the season on Wednesday, Nov. 15 at 7 p.m.
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