Both the Fresno State men’s and women’s basketball teams are set to start their seasons with the teams playing back-to-back Friday in a doubleheader at the Save Mart Center.
The women’s team plays first, starting at 5 p.m. against Biola University. The men’s team follows at 7 p.m. against the University of Texas at San Antonio.
Both teams played one preseason exhibition game and both came out on top. The men defeated Cal State San Bernardino, 76-69, last Tuesday, and the women defeated Azusa Pacific 75-47 last Friday.
After making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2001, the men bring back a team without its main leaders from last season. But the Bulldogs have plenty of new talent to go along with returning starters and senior forwards Paul Watson and Karachi Edo.
Head coach Rodney Terry enters his sixth year in charge and has put together an impressive resume in his time in Fresno recruiting and developing top players.
Redshirt freshman forward Nate Grimes (#32) dunks the ball during a game against Cal State Bernardino at the Save Mart Center on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016. (Khone Saysamongdy/The Collegian)
Terry said that Watson is the leader of this team now, and Watson has proven to Terry that he is ready to lead this team.
“I think Paul Watson has been probably, of the seniors right now, the most consistent guy both on the court and off the court,” Terry said after the preseason game.
Terry also named Edo as a leader. But due to academic issues, Edo will not be able to play with the team until the fall semester ends. Terry also said that senior forward Cullen Russo has not done everything right and has not shown leadership. Russo was held out of the exhibition game by the athletic department due to an administrative issue, but should be ready to play come Friday.
Junior guard Jahmel Taylor returns along with junior center Terrell Carter II. Taylor played his first season with the Bulldogs last year and should get much more playing time since last season’s three top guards graduated. Carter saw his role improve last season, and he is set up to play an integral role this year.
Redshirt junior transfer guard Jaron Hopkins will play his first season as a Bulldog and should be a key player. Hopkins transferred from Colorado and is a childhood friend of Watson from their time in Mesa, Arizona.
Terry’s recruiting class is headlined by five-star recruit William McDowell-White from Brisbane, Australia. McDowell-White is finishing up some prep school work and is expected to join the team midseason.
The Bulldogs finished the season 25-10, 13-5 in the Mountain West finishing second in the conference. They defeated San Diego State in the conference championship game and lost to Utah in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The women’s team is led by third-year head coach Jaime White and is coming off a 22-12 season, finishing second in conference with a 15-3 record. The Bulldogs lost to Colorado State in the conference tournament championship game.
Returning starters are sophomore guard Breanne Knishka and junior center Bego Faz Davalos. Faz Davalos made the preseason Mountain West All-Conference team, and was last year’s Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year after leading the nation in blocks with 136.
Freshman forward/guard Kristina Cavey led the Bulldogs in the exhibition game with a game-high 18 points. The game started out close, with Fresno State leading 17-14 at the end of the first quarter, but the Bulldogs pulled away largely due to Cavey.
“I thought we played well as a team,” White said after the game. “I think we are a little deeper than I thought. For the most part, we stayed out of foul trouble, so that is nice to see.”
The Bulldogs played in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT) last season and lost in the second round.
Both the men’s and women’s teams were successful last season and have the chance to repeat their success if the young players have an impact.