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.
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 6-10 sophomore who scored 8.8 points per game at San Bernardino (Calif.) Valley College last year. Though raw on offense, the junior-college transfer has two qualities that Verlin likes: He’s long and he rebounds well.
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 (Ill.) College, 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. 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 has gradually introduced 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.
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 after Mike Freeman’s departure.