Nick Garth (3) powers through a defender during Tuesday’s Red and White Scrimmage at the Montagne Center.

Nick Garth (3) powers through a defender during Tuesday’s Red and White Scrimmage at the Montagne Center.

Lamar hoops ranked second, aiming for top spot

Lamar University’s men’s basketball team has started the 2017-18 season already breaking records. The team was picked to finish second, only 34 points behind SFA, in a preseason poll announced by Southland Conference officials, Oct. 16. The selection was the highest pick since 2007.

Last year the Cardinals posted a 19-15 overall record, 10-8 in SLC, and made it to post-season play for the first time since 2012. The Cards return most of that squad, including four starters.

“We’ve got more returning players this year since I’ve been here, led by Colton Weisbrod,” head coach Tic Price said. “Colton is coming off a real special year. He has been battle tested. He knows what it takes to win on this level and is one of my most experienced players. At the end of the day, he is our go-to guy — he makes things happen for us.”

Weisbrod, a senior from Nederland, was named first-team All-Southland Conference last year. He started in 34 games of the season and led the team in scoring and rebounds. He finished fourth in the league with 10 double-doubles, seventh in points averaged per a game, tied for second in SLC rebounds, fifth in free-throw shooting and had a career high of 34 points in one game.

“It’s exciting,” Weisbrod said. “We have a good group of guys and familiar faces, which is always good. Coming into the conference, having senior leadership is always going to be a good thing for the team. Usually, the teams that win this conference are experienced teams, tough teams. I feel like we can bring that to the table.”

Other returning starters are point guard Joey Frenchwood, and guards Zjori Bosha and Nick Garth.

“Joey Frenchwood is one of the most underrated point guards in the Southland Conference,” Price said. “He is coming off an injury right now, but if he can pick up from a year ago, I think he has a chance to have a special year. Then we have Zjori Bosha, who’s been with the program for four years. He does all the little things for us. Defensively, he gets his hand on a lot of things, he anticipates well. He set the school record last year for 10 steals in one game. We have to follow his lead defensively.

“Nick Garth is one of the most prolific three-point shooters in our conference. He is capable of exploding at any time offensively. He gets it, he understands and he can play multiple positions.”

Price said besides the returners, the team consists of fifth-year transfers and two freshmen.

“We have one transfer, James Harrison, (who) helps us stretch the defense with his outside shooting — we need his experience, as well as Da’Shawn Robinson, who is another transfer,” he said. “Then we have Tyrin Atwood, who was a freshman last year, who adds to that experience. We only have two freshmen — Avery Sullivan, a big kid, a wide body, who will give us a presence inside, and Jordan Foster. They are putting in the work and seeing the difference from high school basketball and what it takes to play on Division I level — both of them have bright futures here at Lamar.”

Sullivan said he is excited about his first season at the university.

“I’m looking forward to playing with my team, making good experiences, helping us win a conference championship and doing the best we can this season,” he said. “I feel real confident about our team. It’s a daily grind and every day we get better.”

Price said he is looking forward to seeing this team grow during a well-strategized, balanced preseason schedule. 

“There are different styles of play,” he said. “We have teams that bring pressure defense and some teams that run a little bit more than others. I think that life on the road, especially early in the year, is going to, hopefully, teach us how to overcome playing in a hostile environment. I think the schedule will be very good to test our mental toughness, being able to sustain effort and concentration for 40-minutes.”

Tulsa, Coastal Carolina, University of Texas El Paso, North Carolina, Radford and UC-Davis will be some of the tougher opponents on the non-conference schedule.

“We have strategically scheduled games based on us building our program,” Price said. “We certainly don’t want to get overloaded by jumping out into a schedule knowing we don’t have a person out there to match the opponent. What we’re doing is setting it up for us to continually make progress. There are always going to be ebbs and flows during the season, peaks and valleys. It comes down to how mentally tough you are, to be able to overcome those ebbs and flows.”

Price said Southland Conference play will be a challenge.

“No one is a gimme on our schedule,” he said. “We must be locked in and focused when we step between the lines. When I try to prepare our players, I make sure they know to stay in the moment, seizing that moment, regardless of who we play.”

Colton Weisbrod, Senior, Nederland, attends basketball practice at the Montagne Center on October 19, 2017.

Colton Weisbrod, Senior, Nederland, attends basketball practice at the Montagne Center on October 19, 2017.

Weisbrod said he is ready for play to start.

“I feel good about the upcoming season,” he said. “We have a lot of leadership and some great guys on the team. I don’t see why we can’t compete for a championship. Everyone wants to get to the NCAA tournament. I’ve never been there and I don’t think any of the coaches have been there here at Lamar. That would be nice to do for everybody.”

Lamar had the opportunity for extra practice over the summer when they travelled overseas to play in Costa Rica.

“It was good,” Price said. “It was a good experience. It was team building in another country. It was us against the world, it was just us. We had maybe two or three fans that were there. We had to grow together.”

After seeing the hard work they put in at practice, Price said he is starting to see the team’s strengths and weaknesses.

“One of the weaknesses that I am concerned about is taking care of the basketball,” he said. “Right now, we are turning the ball over a little too much. We have to value the basketball a little more. We have to clean that area up, and then know when our shot selection is a good shot, know when to and when not to. I’m a stickler about detail, but those are areas we can clean up. We’ve got to get better at it before we play the first game.”

Team defense and scoring has been a strength, Price said.

“I’ve seen glimpses of good team defense, but it can’t be glimpses it has to be sustained,” he said. “I think that we can score. We do that well. We have some offensive firepower. Defense, to me, is going to be the key to our success if we make our stops. I think that that should be a commitment from every guy across the board. We need to get tougher on the defensive end, that’s going to be big for us. That would be the difference between chasing a championship and being a champion.”

Price said one thing he isn’t worried about is team chemistry.

“We’ve had team chemistry for the last two years,” he said. “Those guys hang out together. They don’t really care about who has the leading scorer, they just care about winning. That’s the culture we are trying to make sure we have — the camaraderie. We always say, ‘Be a good teammate.’ The guys pull for each other.”

Freshman Sullivan said the veteran guys really took him and the other newbies in.

“The older players treat me with respect,” he said. “They look out for me. They make sure everything is good with my classes and make sure I’m good throughout campus. If I need anything I can go to them. They act like big brothers.”

As they head into their season, despite the high prediction, Price said he is focused on getting the team to that No. 1 spot.

“To be honest, with me, second place is a compliment to how people see us,” he said. “But when I look at our rankings, no one has played or won a championship in October — championships are won in March. We’re not celebrating being No. 2, the goal is to be No. 1. We have a lot more work to do to get there.

“The rankings are more for the fans, not necessarily for me or the players. We know whatever we get from this point on, we’re going to have to earn it. When you are a team, you don’t think about that, all you focus on is at the end — are you a champion or not? There’s only one place and that’s No. 1. That’s where we have to get to.”

The men will make their pre-season debut at Tulsa, Okla., Nov. 10, at noon. Audio will be available on 560 AM.

Story by Cassandra Jenkins, UP sports editor

Learn more about Lamar University at lamar.edu

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