Expect turbulence for Pilots this season
But good young talent portends well for future
Patience will be an important virtue with this year's University of Portland Pilots' basketball team.
Both with the players and their fans.
After coaching the Pilots to 60 wins in the past three seasons, I don't see Eric Reveno reaching the 20-win mark in his sixth year on The Bluff.
Maybe not even 15.
Portland has only one senior (starting guard Nemanja Mitrovic) and one junior (reserve guard Derrick Rodgers) in the rotation. There are 11 freshmen and sophomores on the 14-man roster, and many of them played key roles in Sunday night's 83-73 loss to Washington State at Chiles Center.
It's one of the youngest teams in Division I basketball this season, and that is not likely to translate into a heap of W's for Reveno's group.
Rev's cherubs, though, ain't bad at all.
His four-player freshman recruiting class 'is the best we've had since I've been here,' Reveno said. In terms of accumulating enough talent to contend for a West Coast Conference championship, 'we're getting there.'
The two who caught my eye Sunday night were Kevin Bailey, a bouncy-legged 6-5, 190-pound Clovis, Calif., native who nearly brought the house down with a flying dunk attempt (he missed) near the end of the game, and 6-11, 225-pound center Thomas Van Der Mars.
Bailey made only 2 of 9 shots from the field but was 9 for 10 from the line and scored a team-high 14 points with three steals in 17 minutes off the bench.
After Bailey had committed to the Pilots last year, 'UCLA was sniffing at him,' Reveno said. The Bruins 'wanted him to wait until the spring (to sign a letter of intent). The week before the (early) signing period, they were driving to his house and trying to get him to wait. Northwestern had offered. He is that level of a kid - a different level than we've had.'
Bailey needs some fine-tuning, but he should be a three-year starter, and maybe he'll crack through before the end of this season.
'His attitude has been off the charts,' Reveno said. 'He is so open-minded, and he understands his minutes will come. He is very patient with himself. He uses his athleticism and aggressiveness and is able to make some plays.'
Van Der Mars, a native of the Netherlands, is personally responsible for Reveno's uptick in frequent-flier miles.
'I had to go to Europe twice, once to Paris, to recruit him,' Reveno said. 'Once I was over there for less than 24 hours.
'He is good, and a great student - a perfect fit for our school. He has done real well.'
Van Der Mars had 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting and grabbed five rebounds in 19 minutes off the bench. He has good hands and a soft touch. Once he gains strength and stamina, he'll be the Pilots' main man in the middle.
'Washington assistant Paul Fortier told me if (Van Der Mars) had gone to high school in Seattle, the Pac-12 schools would have been all over him,' Reveno said.
Central Catholic High grad David Carr, a 6-3 guard who has started three of UP's four games, 'has been our biggest surprise so far,' Reveno said. The coach has also been impressed with 6-7 forward Dorian Cason out of Fontana, Calif., who is in the Pilots' 10-man rotation.
Reveno is counting on four sophomores - 6-10 center Riley Barker, 6-7 forward Ryan Nicholas and guards Tim Douglas and Tanner Riley - to provide stability in his lineup.
Over the past three seasons, the Pilots have fired from 3-point range more accurately than any D-I team in the country. That won't happen again. They were 5 for 21 Sunday night and are at .273 from beyond the arc thus far this season.
'We're no longer the 3-point shooting team we have been over the last three years, and that's fine,' Reveno said. 'I like our guys, I like what we do offensively. We just have figure that out and play to our strengths.'
Mitrovic sounds prepared to experience more downs than ups this season.
'It's different than the teams we've had in the past,' Mitrovic said. 'We're really young, but we're getting used to it.
'It's a good group of guys. We're trying to help the young guys as much as we can, and pull together as a team as quickly as we can.'
The Pilots have shot a collective 40 percent from the field in losses to Pac-12 foes Washington and Washington State and victories over Florida Atlantic and Georgia State.
'Shots we would normally make aren't going down,' Mitrovic said. 'We just have to keep running our offense and taking the shots that are good for us and I know eventually they'll start going down for us.'
Said Reveno: 'We have played four teams that you could argue are more athletic than any team in our conference. We need to make up for that with skill and toughness.'
The Pilots were picked by coaches to finish seventh in a WCC race fortified by the addition of Brigham Young, with perennial power Gonzaga and Saint Mary's the favorites. That seems about right, though Reveno would like for his kids to develop quickly enough to do better than that.
Two years down the road, I figure, the denizens of the Purple Palace will have a pretty good team to cheer for.
'We will win the league - when, I don't know,' Reveno said. 'That's my mindset.
'I like this group's potential. To be relevant in the conference race the last couple of weeks is what we'd like to do. (In 2009), we finished third and played Saint Mary's in the (WCC tournament) semifinals. To get back in that situation is our next step.'