Offseason and trip to Panama
The Sea Lions made the journey to Panama at the beginning of August for their once every four-year foreign tour. It was a time of team bonding both on and off the court. The team went on a few river boat trips and visited the canal, but the most valuable part was the opportunity to have 10 practices and play three games.
“We’re way ahead of where we would normally be at this time,” said second-year head coach Ryan Looney. “The trip itself was fantastic. We got an opportunity to play three games, but also got to do a lot of other things including volunteering for an afternoon at a local orphanage in Panama City, which has helped us build our chemistry and our culture.”
With the confidence after the foreign tour, the Sea Lions will open their season earlier than they ever have since joining NCAA Division II. They will begin their season at the Disney Tip-Off Classic (Nov. 3-4), before going to the PacWest/GNAC Challenge hosted by Western Oregon (Nov. 10-11). After that, the Sea Lions will play six straight home games before opening conference play on Dec. 2 at Azusa Pacific.
“We thought that because of the foreign tour this summer, this would also be a great opportunity to play a week earlier in the Disney Tip-Off Classic,” explained Looney. “Because of the foreign trip, we will be more ready to play than what you would be in a normal year at the very, very beginning of November. We open with very similar opponents to what we opened up with a year ago, and we have to have a better start in those games than we did last season. After that, we’re excited about a whole slew of home games. So all of those games back-to-back are right here in our own gym and the opportunity to sleep in our own bed, we are hoping that that can set us up for some success before we get into all of our conference games.”
The Sea Lions return two starters, the last two PacWest Freshmen of the Year. Josh Rodriguez (15.2 ppg, 5.7 apg) will be back to run the point and Sterling Somers (9.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg) is expected back at the ‘3’. Also returning for PLNU will be guards Yusuf Shehata, Jack Langborg, AJ Firey and redshirt Noah Stapes. Returning in the frontcourt will be AJ Elliot, Cameron Gilbert and Skyler White.
“Overall we feel that all of our returners are in a better place then they were a year ago,” said Looney. “They’re all older, more mature, but also all of them have grown physically. Their bodies are in better shape. Their overall fitness level is much higher than it was a year ago. We simply think, if nothing else, with them we will be able to play harder for longer. Some individual guys we’re excited about are Josh Rodriguez. He has changed his body in the offseason so he can be a more complete player, and hopefully affect the game on the defensive end as well. We’re also expecting a lot of big things from Sterling Somer. Just with a full year of experience, we think he should be able to take the next step.”
During the offseason, coach Looney and his staff added seven newcomers, four freshmen and three transfers. Preston Beverly (MSU Billings), Tanner Nelson (BYU-Hawaii) and Ziggy Satterthwaite (Northern Idaho) all joined the Sea Lions as transfers. Luke Lovelady, Sam Linsky, Jacob Maga and Sean Dunn are all freshmen in Looney’s 2017-18 recruiting class.
“No. 1, we thought we needed to add guys that fit exactly how we want to play but also we wanted to bring in guys that fit the exact culture that we’re trying to establish and so far, we couldn’t be happier with all of them,” said Looney. “I think there’s a bunch of guys that we’ll need to make a significant impact for us if we’re trying to accomplish what we want to during the year. Tanner Nelson is the PacWest leading returning scorer. He’s proven that he can score the ball in a number of ways on the offensive end and we’re excited about that. Preston Beverly has already demonstrated that he can be a successful player at the NCAA Division II level. He averaged close to 19 points and over eight rebounds a game as a sophomore at Montana State Billings and was first team all-conference in the GNAC. We think that he can provide an immediate presence for us. We’re excited about Ziggy. His ability to defend and the energy that he brings every day are great fits for our other guys and then also as we’re trying to establish the exact culture that we want in our program. So far we’ve thought that Luke Lovelady has been very impressive as well. He’s very long, very athletic, can play a number of different positions, which should allow him to find a way to get on the floor some as a freshman.”
Last season, PLNU ranked eighth in the PacWest averaging 74.9 points per game. The team shot .458 percent from the field and .333 from 3-point range. Josh Rodriguez (15.2 ppg, 5.7 apg) is the team’s leading returning scorer, but apart from him and Somers (9.2 ppg) the Sea Lions will be looking to replace their other top 5 scorers.
“Hopefully we will be better offensively than a year ago,” said Looney. “The teams that I’ve coached have always tried to be as efficient as we possibly can. A year ago, we were not. Part of that is just the system being new and guys trying to find their way within in it. Obviously, with the early start and the foreign tour, we’re much farther along right now than we ever would’ve even thought of being a year ago. How our season went last year, we struggled early but by the end of the year when the guys kind of figured out how offense should look and how it should work and what spots they should find their scoring opportunities. By the end, I think we were a tough team to beat.”
The defensive end of the floor has always been the calling card for Ryan Looney coached teams. Last year, the Sea Lions ranked sixth in the PacWest in scoring defense (73.9 ppg) and were fourth in rebounding margin (+6.0), but coach Looney has emphasized this as a critical area to improve.
“We need to be better defensively than we were a year ago,” he explained. “We needed our players to physically be in better shape than we were a year ago so we can play harder for longer. Obviously, with that, we need to stay healthy and - knock on wood - so far we’ve been able to do that. We’ve added some pieces that should be the type of defensive player that fits nicely in our system too.”
Keys to the season
Apart from health and learning the attitude and effort that must be made to be a member of the Sea Lions, coach Looney has outlined some other keys and goals for the 2017-18 season.
“We always only have one goal and that’s to win our next game one possession at a time,” Looney explained. “We talk about simplifying the game every single day. We don’t want to make it overcomplicated. We just want to be the best half-court offensive execution team we can be. We also want to be the best half-court defensive team that we can be. In addition, if we can be one of the top 10 rebounding teams in the country, then we’ll have a chance to play in the NCAA tournament. If we can do each of those things the rest of the things are usually kind of simple in my mind.”
The talent of the 2017-18 men’s basketball team is one Sea Lion fans have not seen in a number of years. With continued effort in the gym and belief in coach Looney’s system, PLNU could be getting its first-ever taste of the NCAA West Regional this season.