On College Hoops
Portland State has a lot to play for this week -a crown jewel, an NCAA Tournament berth. With Big Sky Conference tournament victories tonight and Wednesday at the Rose Garden, the Vikings would go to the Big Dance.
But at the same time, coach Ken Bone can't help but think about next season.
'We have a chance to be just as good, if not better,' he says.
All Bone has to do is watch redshirt players Phil Nelson, Dominic Waters and Jamie Jones in practice. Especially the 6-7 Nelson, a McNary High product who transferred from Washington.
Not prone to hype, Bone says Nelson will be an immediate star in the Big Sky.
'Phil could be an NBA player,' says Bone, the Vikings' third-year coach. 'He can shoot it from 28 feet, is very athletic, can post guys up and is a good passer and ballhandler.'
Nelson is 'special,' says Waters, a guard from Grant High and the University of Hawaii. 'He'll dominate this league by the time he's done. It's easy to say.'
Nelson shakes off the praise.
'If that's the way it goes, that's the way it goes,' he says. 'I'm not going to promise anything.'
The 6-1 Waters, meanwhile, looks forward to playing next to guards Jeremiah Dominguez and Andre Murray. The 6-7 Jones, who recently suffered a leg fracture while roller-skating, should slip nicely into the frontcourt, alongside the likes of Kyle Coston and Julius Thomas.
The three Division I transfers had to sit out this year because of NCAA eligibility rules. It made for some fierce competition in practice, with Nelson dominating the fullcourt sessions at times. He rips off eight or 10 consecutive points, no problem, Bone says.
'He's all-around good,' says Dominguez, who played against Nelson's McNary team while at South Salem. 'He can shoot it, and jump. He's one of our best dunkers. He's going to be great. It's going to be hard for other people to guard him.'
Nelson, who never considered Oregon or Oregon State, left Washington after playing last season and becoming disenchanted with his place in the Husky program. He wanted to return to the state. Bone, the former assistant under UW coach Lorenzo Romar who recruited him, welcomed Nelson with open arms.
Nelson wowed fans with his shooting at times as a Husky.
'Oh, yeah, it doesn't matter where it is, I'll shoot wherever I am,' he says. 'It's one of my greater abilities, my range.'
He's working on ballhandling, getting to the basket and defense. Sitting on the bench hasn't been easy.
'I can't stand it,' Nelson says. 'I've never sat on the bench this long in my life. But it's going to work out.'
Point guard title's in play
Waters played two years at Hawaii, but he, too, felt uncomfortable continuing with the program there. His presence will allow Dominguez, the Big Sky player of the year, to work off the ball more.
'Dom's the type of kid who hurts us in practice,' Bone says. 'He drives into the key in practice, and there's not a lot 'Miah can do to affect his shot.'
Waters says: 'I see myself as a point guard. But, with Jeremiah player of the year, I've got to play alongside him. It'll be fun. I'll have to play some combo (guard). There won't be a set point guard; it's whoever gets the ball goes.'
It's been fun playing against Dominguez in practice, Waters adds.
'He's little, and tough to keep up with,' he says. 'With his ballhandling ability, he can get to where he wants on the floor.'
Jones started at University of Portland last season, before falling out of favor academically. He has long arms, shoots an unblockable jump hook and rebounds well. Just keep him off skates: He went to a party recently, fell down while roller-skating and suffered the leg fracture. He'll be out three months.
'He's a little bit undersized, but his arms make up for it,' Dominguez says.
Bone says: 'He's absolutely money when he gets the ball inside five feet. It's incredible what touch he has.'
Time off court should help
Jones says the year off will do him good, if anything, to stabilize his academics. 'It can't be a problem,' he proclaims, 'or it'll be my last time playing somewhere.'
He adds: 'It was a tough road getting here (to PSU), so much stuff I had to go through. It's best for me to sit out the whole year. And I had to develop more anyway.'
Bone also has signed a high school post, 6-11 Jason Conrad of Gilroy, Calif., who probably will redshirt next season.
But why do transfers gravitate toward PSU?
'It's our style of play,' Bone says. 'What I hope is that kids recognize that we're absolutely basketball junkies as a staff. We spend a lot of time with these guys - open gyms during the summer, all four of us living up here on numerous summer nights. They hang out in the office. We want this to be the place to come and hoop. Through that, kids realize Portland State is a hoop junkie place.'
Waters hopes that Bone stays on as coach and the Vikings follow the midmajor path blazed by Gonzaga.
'We will make the (NCAA) tournament in my two years, I promise that,' Waters says. 'We've got too much talent not to.'
From the Big Sky to the Big Dance
Where: Rose Garden
Tonight's semifinals (both games on CSN): 5:30 p.m. - Northern Arizona (20-10, 11-5) vs. Weber State (16-13, 10-6); 8 p.m. - Portland State (21-9, 14-2) vs. Idaho State (12-18, 8-8)
Wednesday's final (ESPN2):
6 p.m. - Winners play for a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Notes: PSU beat Idaho State
71-61 in Pocatello and 81-58 at Stott Center. … PSU beat D-III Lewis and Clark 61-60 in the Rose Garden this season; the Vikings are 17-9 all-time in the arena. … PSU swept Northern Arizona and split with Weber State. … The Viks are 2-6 in Big Sky tourney games. … The NIT awaits the Viks, if they don't advance to the Big Dance.