MOSCOW, Idaho – In a normal year, the start of college basketball practice would focus nearly universally on the prospects of a team, with maybe a few thoughts given to how a conference is shaping up.
This isn’t a normal year.
The sweeping FBI investigation into bribery and fraud at major conference programs has already led to 10 arrests and the downfall of Louisville coach Rick Pitino.
“It’s a little different with all that stuff on the landscape of college basketball,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said Friday after the Vandals completed their first workout in Memorial Gym.
“I know we do things the right way,” Verlin said. “The FBI is not coming here.”
So Verlin is free to dust off the platitudes about getting better every day and to talk about meshing promising newcomers with six seniors from a team that finished 19-14 a year ago, tied for third in the Big Sky Conference and made it to the second round of the conference tournament.
Among the returners is leading scorer Victor Sanders, who averaged 20.9 points a game and 3.3 assists.
“Vic is one of our leaders. We expect him to have a good year,” Verlin said.
Top rebounders Braylon Blake (6.1 per game), Nate Sherwood (5.5) and Arkadiy Mkrtychyan (4.3) are also back.
Sanders started the season last year on the wing but moved to point guard after Perrion Callandret was lost for the season with a knee injury. Callandret is back at full speed, Verlin said. He should have capable relief from a 6-foot-3 freshman Losini Kamara from Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.
“He’s a big-time player,” Verlin said.
He also noted that another newcomer, 6-9 freshman Scott Blakney of Prosser, gives Idaho size and power because of gains he made weight training this summer.
Idaho opens its season Nov. 5 with an exhibition at home against Lewis-Clark State before traveling to Nevada on Nov. 10. The Vandals play Washington State on Dec. 6 in Moscow.
Other highlights of nonconference play include a trip to the Great Alaska Shootout on Nov. 22, where the Vandals will play Santa Clara in the opening round, and a trip to Western Michigan University on Dec. 18.
In the Big Sky, Verlin expects Weber State to be strong and Northern Colorado to be surprisingly good.
“North Dakota lost a lot, but they have a very good coach,” he said. “Montana has a good coach and Montana State might have the best player in Tyler Hall.”
Hall, a 6-4 junior guard, averaged 23.1 points per game last season.
After Idaho stabilized its lineup following the loss of Callandret, the Vandals became a tough out last year.
Sherwood said that toughness is part of the team’s culture.
“Being tough is something we want to continue to be to be successful,” Sherwood said.