Bill Peterson | On 01, Jun 2013
To compete against a tougher field, the Bobcat Mens’ Basketball team must rise to the occasion after a decade of losing seasons.
by BILL PETERSON
It’s been ten years now since Texas State has finished a men’s basketball season with a winning record.
Before then, it had been four years. And before even then, it had been two years since the Bobcats made an appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
That’s your recent history of Texas State men’s basketball as the Bobcats move this year up to the Western Athletic Conference. With a pedigree like that, it should come as no surprise that the league’s coaches and the media covering the league both picked the Bobcats to finish in last place at their media days in October.
But, so far, so good. Texas State coach Doug Davalos, in his seventh season running the program, said he is very happy with the team’s preseason. Just going to the WAC has enabled Davalos to recruit a deeper stock of raw talent.
“We feel like we got a real good jumpstart on the season and we feel like we’re further along at this point than we’ve ever been,” Davalos said.
Old timers remember well the Texas State basketball teams coached, in turn, by Milton Jowers and Vernon McDonald, who led the Bobcats through the Lone Star Conference from 1950 through the 1970s. When the Bobcats moved up to NCAA Division I with their transfer to the Southland Conference in 1987, they went through a few years of competitive adjustment.
Then Jim Woolridge came to San Marcos and whipped up a team that went 25-7, won the Southland Conference Tournament and appeared in the NCAA Tournament in 1994, his third year. Woolridge moved immediately to Louisiana Tech. Mike Miller followed Woolridge at Texas State with a 16-13 team led by future NBA big man Jeff Foster in 1997. That team also won the league tournament and went to the NCAA Tournament. In 1999, Miller turned out another good squad, an 18-8 outfit that won the Southland Conference regular season title.
Those seem like the good old days, as good as they’ve gotten in Division I, and they were a long time ago.
After six years of Dennis Nutt as head coach, the Bobcats bottomed out in 2006 at 3-24, and the team’s academic performance was so poor that the NCAA docked them two scholarships for two years. So, Texas State turned to Davalos, who had coached Sul Ross State to success and is the son of former Bobcat basketball star Rudy Davalos.
Southwest Texas State was just becoming Texas State when Davalos began, and Dick Vitale probably has never heard of Texas State since then. The Bobcats under Davalos have been counting it as an achievement just to qualify for the Southland tournament.
However, the program is better than when he found it. His Texas State teams became competitive, if not victorious, in the Southland Conference. Academically, the ship is sailing. When Davalos took over in 2006, the school’s Academic Progress Rating was 858, costing the program two scholarships. By 2010, Davalos had that score up to 944, giving him, according to FoxSports.com, the second highest APR increase of any Division I coach. The last reported score, for 2011, gives the program a score of 960 out of a possible 1,000. Sixteen players have earned degrees under Davalos.
But it remains that the Bobcats are 80-104 under Davalos, and they go to the WAC off a disappointing season, 13-17 overall without even a bid for the Southland Conference Tournament.
There was a glimmer of hope at the start of last season. The Bobcats finished 2011 with their third straight winning record within the Southland, 10-6 to tie for the West Division title. They lasted to the semifinals of the league tournament, two wins short of an NCAA bid. The Bobcats finished 15th nationally in scoring, and they won at home.
From Dec. 31, 2010, to Dec. 28, 2011, the Bobcats won 16 straight at Strahan Coliseum, the 10th longest such streak in the country at the time. With that last win of the streak, the Bobcats began the 2011-12 season at 7-5 overall, including wins against Houston and Toledo.
But the wheels came off when the Bobcats returned to San Marcos for their first game of 2012, a 66-65 loss to Stephen F. Austin. With that, the Bobcats lost eight of their first nine Southland Conference games, and they couldn’t rally to even qualify for the league tournament. They ended the season 5-11 in the conference, winning five of six league games in the late weeks.
So, if that’s what the Bobcats delivered last year in the Southland Conference, what should we expect as they move up to a tougher league? The league’s coaches and media say we should expect last place.
Davalos isn’t saying anything like that. But he’s not campaigning in the media to put Texas State into the NCAA Tournament, either.
Instead, Davalos is trying to put together a basketball team with the tools at his disposal, which have considerably improved. The program’s NCAA troubles concerning APR, which also reduced practice time for a while, now are past. Taking advantage of new NCAA legislation, Davalos took the Bobcats to Costa Rica this summer.
“It’s a great experience that everybody should take advantage of, because it does give you an advantage once every four years,” Davalos said. “We should have been doing this every year, and I’m going to make sure we start doing this one every four years. You get those extra full practices. It really helps your program, especially with a lot of new players coming in. It makes the transition a lot smoother.”
Moving to the WAC can’t help but bring better players to the program from top to bottom. The transition begins with Matt Staff, a 6-10 senior who became a full-time starter last year, then led the team in scoring 13 times and in rebounding 23 times. Staff finished the season with averages of 13.3 points and 7.9 rebounds, playing 25 minutes per game.
The other senior returning with significant playing history is point guard Vonn Jones, who finished with 7.7 points per game last year and led the Bobcats with 118 assists in 25 minutes per game.
Reid Koenen, a 6-7 junior, is the team’s best returning three-point shooter, hitting 35.7 percent (25 for 70) last year. Koenen averaged 7.2 points and 2.9 rebounds last year in 19 minutes per game. Sophomore guard Wesley Davis is back after averaging 6.8 points in 20 minutes per game.
The Bobcats also have eight newcomers on their team. Whether any of them become stars remains to be seen. At the very least, though, Davalos said, having incoming talent improves the players already on the roster.
“Everybody’s got depth,” Davalos said. “We have quality depth this year. Depth is when you fill your scholarships. This year, we have quality depth That should carry over.”