The Beavers are off to a strong start this season with a 6-1 record and wins over Iona and Nevada. They face their stiffest test to date, and arguably all season, when they take on No. 2 Kansas on Saturday. Here’s some quick thoughts so far about the 2015-16 squad.
The biggest surprise been Drew Eubanks, no question about it. Before Daniel Gomis and Jarmal Reid suffered injuries, I hoped the 6-11 freshman post from Reynolds High would redshirt because while he had upside, I thought it would take a season or two for him to develop that talent. Turns out he was more than ready. Has OSU ever had a big man as athletic as Eubanks? He runs the floor so well and crashes the offensive boards relentlessly. Once he develops a post move and increases his defensive awareness, watch out! An added bonus, he can shoot free throws.
Speaking of freshmen, all of them bring something valuable to the Beavers already. Tres Tinkle is aggressive at both ends of the floor. Stevie Thompson is as pure of a shooter as I’ve seen during my years as a Beavers fan. Gligorije Rakocevic is a smart player who clogs the middle… and then there’s Derrick Bruce. He might not put up the numbers that Eubanks, Thompson, and Tinkle are, but I think he’s making just as big of an impact with his speed and ball handing skills.
Remember when getting the ball across mid-court was always an adventure for the Beavers in recent seasons? That’s not the case anymore because of Bruce. He breaks the press with ease. Some might not like how much he dribbles, but you know what? He can get away with it because he’s that good. As he builds his strength and experience, Bruce will turn into an even bigger asset for the Beavers. It’s easily to see why some pundits thought Bruce was a steal.
Combine all the freshmen with holdovers such as Gary Payton II, Langston Morris-Walker, Malcolm Duvivier, and Olaf Schaftenaar, and the Beavers have so much depth (and talent) compared to last season. And once Gomis returns from his injury the Beavers will have even more options to throw at teams. It will be interesting to see how Coach Tinkle manages all the minutes. But it’s a good problem to have, as it will be nice to be able to give Eubanks and Schaft more rest.
Having more playmakers has taken pressure off Payton II, Duviver, and Morris-Walker to have to create opportunities on offense. They can let the shots come to them more, unlike last season in which they often had to force things. Morris-Walker especially seems to be benefiting from the infusion of talent as he’s getting a lot of wide open looks.
The return of Gomis should help shore up what I think is the Beavers’ biggest weakness right now: interior defense. He, alone, should improve the defensive positioning. He’s pretty aware and active on defensive, which helps makes up for his offensive limitations. I am hoping him and Eubanks will complement each other down low, and disrupt more shot attempts.
The thing is once this squad is fully healthy, and develops its chemistry, they will be tough. They have playmakers, can shoot, and are athletic. But the key is to get better defensively. They must communicate and trust each other more on that end of the floor. But they already are a ton of fun to watch.
And last but not least, Payton II is simply amazing. You never know when he’s going to penetrate a passing lane out of nowhere, swipe the ball, fly down the court, and slam one home. Even when his shot’s not falling, he impacts games so much. And my favorite thing about him so far this season? He’s setting up teammates on the break so well. He’s the ultimate team player. It’s hard to believe he was a JUCO player. Talk about the ultimate late bloomer.
A side benefit of Payton II being a Beaver? It’s gotten Gary Payton back to Gill and invested in the program. It’s so cool seeing OSU’s best player ever sitting courtside at so many games. So wouldn’t it be great if his son could lead the Beavers to the dance? After all, the elder Payton was on the last OSU squad to make it… That would be the perfecting ending to what’s shaping up to be an exciting season!