Fresno State men’s basketball preview: team has 10 players returning

Fresno State forward Orlando Robinson drives toward the rim against Stanislaus State on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2021, at Save Mart Center. (Adam Ricardo Solis/The Collegian)

Two years ago, the Fresno State men’s basketball team lost ten players, five entering the transfer portal. It was definitely a rebuild for the ‘Dogs with young players and a new coach in his second season. 

It also didn’t help with pre-season practices getting canceled, and the team having to quarantine twice due to the pandemic. The story this year was looking similar as it was unclear if certain players were returning.

But it was a relief for the organization as ten players return for the upcoming season. 

Fresno State finished last season with a record of 12-12 overall and 9-11 in the Mountain West conference. The ‘Dogs couldn’t get past the Mountain West quarterfinals in a loss to the Colorado State Rams. 

It was unclear who would come back after that loss, with players like Stroud and forward Orlando Robinson potentially entering the NBA draft portal. But both players decided to come back, and now, Fresno State is one of 18 programs in the nation to return at least 90% of its scoring.

“They just work really hard,” third-year head coach Justin Hutson said. “We got some good players. We do have some returners, so we’re bringing back a certain level of experience. So we’re excited to see our progress.”

Hutson also said he’s looking at players like Robinson, Jamarl Baker, Anthony Holland and Isaiah Hill to step up as leaders for the team. Like Hutson, many people are going to have their eyes on the 7-foot forward junior, Robinson.

The Las Vegas native is in his third season with Fresno State. Last season, he recorded 11 double-doubles and was third in the Mountain West for rebounding and recorded 350 points overall. 

Robinson declared for the 2021 NBA Draft, but withdrew his name on July 2. Coming into this season, he was named preseason All-MW, and is the fifth Bulldog to earn National Association of Basketball Coaches All-District 17 honors since Fresno State joined the Mountain West in 2012. 

“I just want to be able to play with my teammates, and take the shots I’m supposed to take,” Robinson said. “I have opportunities to facilitate for my teammates and I want to make sure that each time I get the ball, I make the right decision.”

Robinson isn’t the only returning player to emphasize. Fresno native Stroud is in his second season with the ‘Dogs. A dynamic duo with Robinson offensively, Stroud finished 17th in Mountain West for scoring last season.

He also averaged 3.7 rebounds and 12.2 points while shooting 48.2 % from the field. 

Following Stroud, Hill was the third-highest scorer for the ‘Dogs. After playing in Tulsa, Hill went to Fresno State his sophomore year and became a prominent guard in the starting roster. He averaged 10.3 points, 3.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists. Hill is another example of talented guards post-players like Robinson could kick the ball out to, or utilize in pick-and-rolls

Junior Ballard, another guard, is the only returning senior who started 19 out of 23 games last season. He played two seasons at Cal Poly before going to Fresno State. Ballard adds 3-point shooting and rebounding to the team and has high praise from former NBA player Quincy Pondexter.

Other returning players are expected to see more minutes. Kyle Harding is a solid player to have off the bench for scoring. Center Braxton Meah is going to have a bigger role, being the few returning big men. He is able to play alongside Robinson or substitute for him when he needs a break.

Despite the long list of returning players, many new names are important to learn for this team. Hutson is known as one of the best recruiters in the west, and this season he continues his reputation with key pick-ups like Baker.

Baker is a 6-foot-5-inch guard that played for Arizona and Kentucky before becoming a Bulldog. He was part of Kentucky’s Elite 8 run in 2019, so he adds experience to the team during big moments. In his exhibition game against Stanislaus, he scored 17 points on 7-for-11 from the field, shooting 50% from the three. 

Another pick up for the ‘Dogs is Donavan Yap, a sophomore who played in UNLV the season before. He also scored double digits against the Warriors. 

The ‘Dogs also have two true freshmen with Steven Vasquez and Robert Vaihola. 

Fresno State men’s basketball season starts this Tuesday, Nov. 9, against the Fresno Pacific Sunbird at the Save Mart Center. 

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