An offseason unlike any other has prepared Long Beach State men’s basketball for a regular season unlike any other.
“Life has prepared us for this season,” LBSU coach Dan Monson said. “Everyone has got a new normal and has to be fluid and flexible.”
The Beach has been slow to return to practice this month while adhering to COVID-19 restrictions, and will only have three weeks of indoor practice under their belt when they start an abbreviated schedule at No. 22 UCLA tonight at 6:30 p.m.
“All we could do was hang out with our teammates, so we got close pretty quickly,” LBSU junior Chance Hunter (pictured) said of being sequestered for the last few months. “Last year we were all new so we knew we had to come together quickly. When we got our new guys (this year), I feel like we accepted them as a team.”
Hunter and fellow junior guard Michael Carter III were both first-year players last year when they led LBSU in scoring. Hunter was named to the Big West Conference Preseason All-Conference Team after he ranked in the Big West’s Top 10 in scoring, rebounding, field goal percentage, 3-point field goal percentage and 3-pointers made last season. He said he’s been working on his defensive activity and his off hand.
“A lot of teams that scouted me saw I mostly go left so I worked on my right hand,” Hunter said. “It’s just going through drills. It’s about me making reads so I know I’m comfortable and can finish.”
Carter III averaged 12.2 points per game last year, and will be joined in the backcourt by transfer Isaiah Washington. The 6’1” point guard was a consensus top 100 recruit out of St. Raymond’s High School in New York. He averaged 11.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game while playing over 33 minutes per game at Iona.
“We’ve been really blessed here to have a really good run of point guards and I think that (Washington) has the ability to be in that category,” Monson said while comparing his talents to Casper Ware, Mike Caffey, Justin Bibbins and Deishuan Booker.
The front court is also folding in a talented transfer in Raymond Hawkins III — who spent a year at Alabama and went through the NCAA appeal process to be eligible for this season. Hawkins is a 6’9” 240-pound forward who was a four-star recruit out of high school.
Monson said he will use multiple starting lineups this year because he can go big and small with more experienced bigs down low like 7’0″ junior Trever Irish and sophomore Romelle Mansel. He added that 6’8” junior Joe Hampton has been a pleasant surprise in the limited practices this month.
“This is more experience back than we’ve had in a few years,” Monson said. “We need to play at a higher level. We’ve turned the ball over too much in the last couple of years and we have to value it better.”
Monson hopes Washington’s leadership and control of possessions can improve LBSU’s assist-to-turnover ratio this season. It was 0.7 last year and the Beach averaged 16 turnovers per game. Washington will get a chance to play immediately in part because of guards Colin Slater and Drew Cobb opting out this season due to COVID-19 concerns.
“If we take care of the ball we have enough ways to score,” Monson said. “We’ve got to play for others. If we’re sharing the ball and not turning it over, I think this team is going to have a successful year.”
LBSU was picked to finish in sixth place overall in the Big West preseason media poll, and Hunter knows where his team needs to improve. The Beach was 11-21 and 6-10 in conference last season.
“Last year down the stretch we had a lot of close games,” he said. “One weak link can effect the whole game. The big emphasis this season is being locked in from minute one to minute 40.”
All six non-conference games will be played in California, and the only home game is Dec. 6 against Seattle. No fans will be permitted. The conference schedule starts Dec. 27-28 at UC Riverside. All Big West games will be played in the back-to-back format to limit travel and possible COVID-19 transmission.
“We didn’t need to have five BCS teams to start this year,” Monson said. “This team needs confidence.”
“It’s a good group of guys,” Hunter said. “A lot of us are outgoing and vocal. We’ve got a lot of guys who will say something and step up. And it’s good because we all listen to each other.”