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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)
COACH AND PROGRAM
Don't ask Portland coach Eric Reveno what his team is going to look like.
He has no idea.
Reveno, who replaced fired predecessor Michael Holton in April, had two weeks -- and only two hours per week -- to work out his players before they were off limits for the summer.
That's not much time to figure out what kind of talent is on hand and how to begin turning it into a winning program.
"It's very tough to have much of a feel," Reveno said, "but I'm not too worried about it. Our staff is really committed to giving everyone a fresh beginning and a clean slate, so there's a benefit to having no strong preconceptions of what guys can do. They'll have the opportunity to prove what they can do and earn their playing time."
That's not to say Reveno, a longtime Stanford assistant, is operating completely in the dark. He has seen film and looked at the numbers, and he knows many of the players from his days of recruiting on the West Coast for the Cardinal.
Mostly, he knows who the Pilots' leader will be. Guard Darren Cooper, granted another season of eligibility by the NCAA, returns as a rare sixth-year senior, and his vast experience will help carry Portland through the transition to Reveno's new system.
"It's hard to even think of him as a senior at this point," the coach said. "It's even beyond a senior, like a grad assistant or something. I feel very fortunate to have him back, from a basketball ability standpoint and from a leadership and maturity standpoint. An anchor, if you will, as we make the transition to a new program. He's been just fantastic.
"Everywhere I turn, I bump into the coaches and they all say, 'You've got Cooper back, don't you?' We're very excited about that."
On the court, the 6-3 wing guard is solid across the board. Last season, he averaged 14.9 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game while making 45 percent of his three-pointers and almost 80 percent of his free throws.
As strong as those numbers are, Reveno hopes to help Cooper broaden his skills.
"It's funny, because my recollection of Darren is as a tremendous scorer," he said. "I think he's got some ball handling skills and can expand his game in terms of putting the ball on the floor and even handling the point a little bit or leading the break. I think that would be the next area of growth for him."
It's also a skill that might come in very handy this season, as the Pilots must replace all-West Coast Conference point guard Pooh Jeter, their top scorer in 2005-06 and the school's second-leading career scorer.
Reveno not only must figure out where those points are going to come from -- "in terms of the scoring and the ability to create that Pooh Jeter offered, I'm not sure we're going to get that," he said -- but he must answer an even more important question: Who's running the show?
Any help Cooper can provide will be welcome, but he isn't a point man. That post will be filled by one of three candidates, or perhaps even by all three.
"What we're looking for is someone that can lead the team, and it might very well be by committee," Reveno said. "I think all three of the point guards will get opportunities. I'm not predicting or anticipating what's going to happen there."
The contenders include 5-6 junior Jeremiah Dominguez (3.3 ppg, 1.2 apg), who struggled with his shooting last season, 5-10 sophomore Brian McTear (0.8 ppg, 0.6 apg), who averaged less than five minutes per game, and incoming freshman Taishi Ito, a heady 6-footer from Japan who ran the point for nationally ranked Montrose Christian in Rockville, Md.
"The transition from high school to college is challenging for any position -- big guys it's strength and size, guards its quickness and leadership -- but it is intriguing having someone from that level of program because that gap is narrowed quite a bit," Reveno said. "[Ito has] played with so many Division I-level players at a high level of high school basketball, arguably the highest there is, so maybe that leap to playing in college won't be as challenging for him."
Other than finding a point guard, Portland's biggest challenge is on the boards. Last season the Pilots finished last in the WCC in rebounding for the fifth consecutive season, averaging a mere 31.9 per game. They were also last in the league in blocked shots.
Suffice it to say, rebounding will be a point of emphasis, and with all their big men back, the Pilots hope to turn that weakness into a strength.
"Our post players are not going to play if they're not rebounding," Reveno said. "They're all capable shooters and scorers, but they need to rebound and defend."
That means offense won't be the No. 1 priority for 6-11, 280-pound Kevin Field (4.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg), a classic back-to-the-basket center, and 6-10 center-forward Ben Sullivan (7.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg), both seniors. Sure, they'll be expected to help fill the scoring void left by Jeter, but that won't be their major focus.
"They'll be given their opportunities to score," Reveno said. "But we can't let that dominate their thinking in terms of what their role is. They need to rebound. We need to have just a mind-set as a team that we need to rebound. I don't know what the problems were in the past, but that's something we're committed to improving."
Behind those two, the battle for playing time inside will be fierce. Chris Jackson (0.5 ppg, 1.2 rpg), a little-used 6-9 senior, will compete for a backup role with some young up-and-comers, including 6-8 sophomore Alex Tiefenthaler (3.4 ppg, 2.9 rpg), who started the last five games of last season, 6-7 sophomore Jamie Jones (1.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg) and 6-9 freshman Robin Smeulders, a member of the under-20 Dutch national team.
There is a similar fight for minutes at small forward, where three inexperienced contenders are hoping to land a spot in the starting lineup. Neither Sherrard Watson (1.4 ppg, 0.9 rpg), a 6-6 junior, nor 6-3 sophomore Marcus Carter averaged 10 minutes per night, and the third possibility, 6-6 Ethan Niedermeyer, is a freshman from nationally ranked California state champion De La Salle High. Niedermeyer can also fill in at power forward, if necessary.
Another newcomer, Walter Thompson from Williston (N.D.) State College, will back up Cooper at the off-guard spot. The 6-3 sophomore showed an ability to score, posting a 17.1 points-per-game average as a freshman, and is being groomed to take over that position next season.
BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS
Reveno's first team is grafted together from pieces left over from the previous regime, and there is precious little talent and experience to go around. Cooper is a prime time player, but he can't do it by himself.
Reveno will try to make up for his team's shortcomings with sound fundamentals, especially on defense. The Pilots will rely on man-to-man defense and mix in some zone, trying to force bad shots and create opportunities to run. Of course, that can only work if they get rebounds, something they haven't done well in years.
"Offensively, I feel like we have the skills to do some different things," Reveno said. "Getting out and running, having the guards handling things and making good decisions, running good set stuff, attacking off the dribble. We have some big bodies who know how to set a screen, with shooters coming off the screen who can knock down the shot.
"Offensively, there are some options. Defensively and rebounding is where it's obvious we need work. That could drive playing time and opportunity, early on for sure, more than anything else. I don't think we have the athleticism to out-athlete people and create tempo off our defense, but we can play solid defense, inside-out, eliminating the high-percentage stuff."
For the most comprehensive previews available on all Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2006-07 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbook.com or call 1-866-805-BALL (2255).