We've got a first look at the Idaho basketball team for tomorrow's paper, and you can get an even earlier look at our story after the jump -- plus news about an addition to Don Verlin's coaching staff.
By Josh Wright
MOSCOW, Idaho – In a sea of new faces for the Idaho men's basketball team, Paulin Mpawe is one of a handful who has caught coach Don Verlin's eye in the first week-plus of practice.
For the Vandals' sake, Mpawe – and a few other first-year post players – will need to emerge.
Idaho has nine players in their first year in the program and a mere three returners from last season's 12-18 team. Among those on the roster with Division I experience, only 6-foot-9 senior Joe Kammerer is a true low-block player, and he averaged 1.6 points in less than 10 minutes per game last season.
All this means that finding production at the power forward and center spots will be crucial for UI after WAC Player of the Year Kyle Barone graduated.
"When you have to replace an All-American or Honorable Mention All-American, that’s tough," said Verlin, entering his sixth year at Idaho. "That’s hard to do at our level with big guys, so it’s going to be post guys, 5 men – whatever you want to say – that’s the important thing."
Mpawe is a 6-foot-10 sophomore who scored 8.8 points per game at San Bernardino Valley College last year. Though raw offensively, the junior-college transfer has two qualities that Verlin likes: He's long and he rebounds well.
In addition to Kammerer and Mpawe, the Vandals' rotation of bigs will include redshirt freshman Ty Egbert and JC transfer Robert Asencio, both of whom are listed at 6-9. Bira Seck, a 6-6 junior from Senegal by way of Olney Central College in Illinois, will also be in the mix.
The Vandals will have more depth, and some experience, on the perimeter. Stephen Madison and Connor Hill, the team's second- and third-leading scorers last season, are key returners. And Verlin hopes graduate transfer Glen Dean, who played last year at Utah, will be a stabilizing influence for the six freshmen on the club.
Because of the team's youth, Verlin has embraced the NCAA rule change that allows teams to practice two weeks earlier than before. He's been able to gradually introduce his system knowing the 30 days of preseason practice can be stretched over the six weeks before UI's opener on Nov. 9 against Western Illinois.
The rule change also allows the Vandals to take more time off between practices and minimize the impact on players' bodies.
"I'm a little worried about burnout because we started so early," Verlin said, "but also it’s been good for this young team because I think what we’ll be able to do is go slower and teach more thoroughly throughout the year."
Palacio joins UI staff
Former NBA player Milt Palacio, who played at Colorado State while Verlin was an assistant there under Stew Morrill, has joined UI's staff as the director of player development.
Palacio played eight seasons in the NBA and spent the last six years playing overseas. He fills a vacant spot on Verlin's staff after Kirk Earlywine, the former director of player development, was promoted to assistant coach this summer after Mike Freeman's departure.
In addition to Paulin Mwape, Verlin has also been impressed with three freshmen -- Jordan Scott, Sekou Wiggs and Perrion Callandret. Here's what he said about each:
-- On Scott: "Jordan Scott has played very well, a guy we picked up late in the summer. Was very, very well coahed in high school. Played at a really good high school program. He’s been better than I thought. Played very good."
-- On Wiggs: "Sekou Wiggs is very talented. We’ve got to get him to play our way, the Vandal way, but I like him."
-- On Callandret: "Perrion Callandret has got a lot of talent, too. I mean, very athletic, very talented. So I like what I’ve seen from those guys."