The Fresno State men’s basketball team is about to open up its 2020-2021 campaign, but the Bulldogs are already facing adversity to start the season.
Like most of college basketball, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the Bulldogs, putting a pause on in-person activities. The team has had to quarantine twice since its return to the Save Mart Center (SMC) for pre-season workouts, missing a total of 28 days.
“It is difficult not being around for the fall and summer, but it is also exciting,” third-year head coach Justin Hutson said at the Mountain West (MW) men’s basketball media day. “You have to control what you can. It’s going to be slow for us, but we’re going to still demand to try to get better every day and get out there and compete on the floor.”
Not only is Fresno State dealing with a pandemic, but they also have a new roster. As the season kicks off, it remains to be seen how each of these players will fit with the Bulldogs.
Fresno State welcomes 10 new players, with five of those players transferring from Division I programs — sophomore guard Junior Ballard (Cal Poly), senior guard Devin Gage (DePaul), redshirt junior guard Alec Hickman (UC Riverside), sophomore guard Isaiah Hill (Tulsa) and sophomore guard Deon Stroud (UTEP).
The Bulldogs are also welcoming three incoming freshmen, Fresno native center Braxton Meah, guard Destin Whitaker and guard/forward Leo Colimerio —all of whom signed in the early period of 2019. Junior college transfer sophomore guard Kyle Harding will also join the ‘Dogs this season.
Hutson said there hasn’t been a player that has stood out consistently during practices. With so many new players, but each player has showcased some skills on different occasions.
Hutson said that players like Hill will make significant decisions with the ball. He also mentioned that players like Harding do a great job of getting up and down the court, and Holland has practices where he doesn’t miss a shot. However, Hutson continued to emphasize that the team needs to perform on a consistent basis.
“We haven’t consistently practiced or haven’t been consistently around me,” Hutson said. “That’s what we’re striving for. Being consistent at the base things of what we’re doing, and let’s continue to get better because I like our talent.”
Additionally, forward Christian Gray will make his return to the Bulldogs after redshirting last season for skill development.
While the ‘Dogs welcome new members to the family, they also said goodbye to six members from last year’s roster. Five of those six members entered the NCAA transfer portal.
Now sophomore guard Jarred Hyder has a new home at Cal, senior guard Mustafa Lawrence is back in his home state of New York playing for the Norfolk State Spartans and senior forward Lazaro Rojas is playing for the Texas-Arlington Mavericks.
Junior guard Aguir Agau and junior forward Chris Seeley are the only Bulldogs who have not found a home for this upcoming season after transferring out.
Niven Hart, who amongst the six players that left, actually forgoed his college eligibility and declared for this year’s NBA draft. Hart went undrafted and has not signed with an NBA team.
Of the four returning players, sophomore forward Orlando Robinson and sophomore guard Anthony Holland are the only starters returning from last season’s team. As a freshman, the 7-foot forward was an offensive presence for the Bulldogs averaging 12.2 points per game while shooting 49.2% from the field. He also set a Bulldog freshman record grabbing 6.6 rebounds per game.
His performance on the court earned him a Mountain West honorable mention as well as an All-MW 2020 preseason selection. NBADraft.net predicts him to go in the second round of the NBA draft.
The other returning members for the Bulldogs are guard Jordan Campbell and center Assane Diouf. Despite the low return, last year’s freshman core saw the court a decent amount of playing time. They were on the court for Fresno State 48.3% of the time.
Both Robinson and Campbell played over 28 games for the Bulldogs.
With how unorthodox this season is, the Bulldogs haven’t had as much time to build team chemistry off the court. But Hutson said that having strong chemistry off the court doesn’t always mean an easy transition on the court.
Despite the lack of chemistry, Robinson is making sure there is accountability within the team.
“It’s important for me as a leader on the team to conversate with my team and talk to them about being responsible on and off the court,” Robinson said. “If those talks don’t happen, then the season isn’t looking too good.”
Fresno State will open up the season at the SMC on Tuesday, Nov. 25, at 3 p.m.
As per Fresno County COVID-19 guidelines, no fans will be allowed in attendance this year at the SMC.