Westmont College is back inside Murchison Gym, working to prove the naysayers wrong after being left outside of the NAIA men’s basketball preseason poll.
In the era of COVID-19, the Warriors have gotten the jump on much of their NAIA competition by already logging six full practices.
“I was just talking to Azusa Pacific’s coach, Peter Bond, and he said they’ve only been able to do outdoor weight workouts,” Westmont coach Landon Boucher said. “I’m going to tell our guys that, ‘Hey, just being able to step onto the floor and practice is such a gift.’”
The Montecito college looks like a military camp in its organization of hybrid learning and athletic workouts under California state guidelines.
“There are tents everywhere around here,” Boucher said. “We went through the entire protocol and we’re getting tested every week, and we’ve had no positive results.
“We’re thankful for our president (Gayle) Beebe making responsible and safe decisions, and for the great job our athletic director, Dave Odell, has done in navigating how we could get back onto the floor.”
Westmont returns 10 of its 11 top players from a 26-5 team which won last year’s Golden State Athletic Conference regular-season championship. The Warriors received a No. 2 seeding in their bracket of the NAIA National Tournament, but the event was canceled by the coronavirus.
The Warriors still finished two spots outside the top 25 of the NAIA preseason poll that was released last week.
“We have essentially the same team back, except for Justin Bessard,” said Boucher, who has succeeded John Moore as head coach after serving as an assistant the last two years. “JB was a big part of our team — an all-league guy. I understand that.
“I really don’t put the blame on the NAIA for ranking us No. 27 since we were voted only third in our league. And as you know, preseason rankings are based on speculation and not on any real evidence. Our team isn’t ignoring the rankings but we’re also not feeling left out. We’re just using it for motivation.”
His 10 returnees and forward Ajay Singh, a highly regarded 6-foot-6 transfer from Notre Dame de Namur, came into practice in varying degrees of condition.
“You could tell right away who got creative with their training in the offseason and put in the work — which guys got after it in the weight room and in playing outdoors,” said Boucher, who was a three-point shooting star for the Warriors during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons.
Westmont returns star point guard Abram Carrasco, a senior who averaged 18.9 points and 4.8 assists last year to become only the fifth Warrior in history to make the NAIA All-America First Team.
“You could tell Abram put in the work all summer — he’s put on some muscle and is looking really good,” Boucher said. “Jared Brown, who started every game last year as a freshman, looks like he put in a ton of work, too. And seniors Hunter Sipe and Tristan Lloyd stayed in town all summer and really got after it in the weight room.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who’ve been training with Peter Park at Platinum Fitness, and it’s been a real game-changer for us.”
Sipe averaged 11.4 points last year, shooting 40.8% from three-point range while grabbing 5.7 rebounds.
“He really led by example last year, taking an average of one charge a game,” Boucher said. “That’s very tough to do. I remember a game where he took four charges.
“He led by example last year and now he’s trying to get outside himself and lead with a voice.”
The other starters back are Brown (11.3 points, 36.8% from three) and Cade Roth (10.5 points, 50% from three, 6.2 rebounds).
The coronavirus has left Westmont’s schedule in a state of flux. The Warriors are tentatively set to open their season at home on Nov. 14 against the University of Saint Katherine although they’re hoping to add another home game for Nov. 13.
“We’re just excited to be on the court right now,” Boucher said. “We’ll take whatever we can get.”