Bronco hoops counting on maturing youth for wins

Bronco hoops counting on maturing youth for wins
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Leon Rice no longer needs to take roll call or hand out name tags to help him put faces with the names of players.

Set to begin his third season at Boise State, Rice finally has a familiar group of players on the roster. He even has a few solid building blocks in his process of building a successful program in Boise.

The Broncos open the season Sunday against Texas Southern. Boise State went 13-17 last season behind a group of players that were inexperienced and unseasoned. But those young players are now one year older and wiser as the Broncos enter their second and final season in the Mountain West Conference.

"It's been a little bit refreshing in the fact that the first year you're starting from scratch, your second year — we had seven seniors, so we have a whole new team again," Rice said. "So this year has been really refreshing to have a group that understands our language and understands our system."

Center Kenny Buckner is the lone senior and sophomores Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks are the top two returners.

Drmic and Marks represent the foundation for a future that will see Boise State will move into the Big West Conference next season. Drmic, a 6-foot-6 wing, averaged a team-high 12.0 points last season, the third-highest mark by a freshman in program history.

The Australian native started his freshman campaign in impressive fashion — even putting together a streak of eight consecutive double-digit outings — before a mid-December ankle injury and tougher opponents lessened his effectiveness.

Drmic only reached double figures in six of Boise State's 14 regular-season Mountain West games and his 3-point percentage was just 19 percent against conference foes.

Rice would like to see more of an even hand in Drmic's performances.

"The biggest thing we want to see with Anthony is consistency," Rice said. "He has to be able to night-in and night-out score. Sometimes he was a little bit married to his 3-point shot and if that didn't go, he didn't score. And if it did go, he would score big."

Marks, a 6-foot-3 point guard, had a strong second half and ended up with a 9.4 scoring average. He matched up well with many of the athletic guards in the conference and is expected to take his game to another level this year.

"I think he has a tremendous upside still and he's going to continue to get better because he's starting to really figure it out and how hard he needs to work," Rice said. "I expect huge things from Derrick this year. He is one of our team leaders as a sophomore. He's a guy that physically stands up in the level of the Mountain West and the athletes in that league."

Boise State also returns four other players that started between 11 and 16 games and another key player who missed half the season due to injury.

Buckner averaged 8.4 points and shot 60.3 percent from the field last season but Rice wants him to improve on his 4.6 rebound average. Other frontcourt options include junior forwards Thomas Bropleh (7.0 points per game) and Ryan Watkins (6.8) and freshman forward Vukasin Vujovic, from Serbia.

Junior Jeff Elorriaga (6.0) and sophomore Igor Hadziomerovic (4.9) are solid backcourt options. Elorriaga earned a scholarship due to his gritty play and Hadziomerovic was receiving quality minutes before a foot injury interrupted his campaign.

The Broncos went just 1-11 on the road last season and will face two strong early-season tests with late-November visits to Michigan State and Creighton. The home slate includes a mid-December matchup with LSU.

Boise State went 3-11 in Mountain West play last season and is predicted to finish eighth in the nine-team league this season.

Drmic pinpointed the troublesome areas that hurt the Broncos last season.

"Road games and finishing games - I think that's where we struggled last year," Drmic said. "Just closing out those games, we had so many opportunities."

Rice is hoping that lessons were learned and the collective growth of the group will equate to more victories.

At least he isn't starting anew for the third straight season.

"I think we have a lot clearer picture, definitely, than we did at this point last year," Rice said. "We just had so many guys that we had to learn about."