BOISE — As proud as Boise State basketball coach Leon Rice was of his team for beating SMU in the first round of the NIT last year and going toe-to-toe with eventual champion Memphis in the second round, the season didn’t end the way the Broncos had planned.
“It wasn’t our goal to be in that tournament,” Rice said. “So that does leave you with some unfinished business.”
Rice and the Broncos officially turned the page and started work towards new goals Tuesday with the first official practice of the 2021-22 season inside ExtraMile Arena.
The Broncos, who went 19-9 last season, lost a pair of starters in Derrick Alston Jr. and RayJ Dennis but return everybody else. Boise State brings back five players that averaged at least 8.0 points per game last season — the first time that’s happened around here in nearly 40 years.
Four of the top five scorers return including Abu Kigab (11.8 ppg), Marcus Shaver Jr. (10.6 ppg), Emmanuel Akot (9.1 ppg) and Devonaire Doutrive (8.9 ppg). Starting center Mladen Armus (8.1 ppg, 7.8 rpg) and key reserve Max Rice (5.9 ppg) also are back.
Throw in the expected contributions from reserves Naje Smith, Lukas Milner, Pavle Kuzmanovic and a freshman class headlined by potential impact wing Tyson Degenhart and the Broncos appear to have a roster capable of competing near the top of the Mountain West standings and challenging for the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2015.
“It’s an exciting time,” Rice said. “It has a different feel to it. There’s an excitement to it. It’s time. Let’s go. All that work in the offseason and we get to start getting ready to play games here. There’s a lot of excitement about this group. There’s a lot of things for me to love about them.
“The thing I’m seeing about this team so far through the summer and getting to know them in the fall is the chemistry permeates the whole team. There’s no niches or cliques. I think this is a group that really likes each other and respects each other and that’s a great place to jump off from.”
Boise State will host Utah Valley in the season opener on Nov. 9.
KIGAB AND RICE FULL-GO AFTER INJURIES
Kigab and Max Rice both practiced Tuesday and have been fully cleared following offseason surgery.
Kigab suffered a torn labrum in the last regular season game against Fresno State, while Rice had offseason surgery for both his hip and his foot.
“Both of them look really, really healthy out on the court,” Leon Rice said. “I think everything went good with all that. They are both moving great.”
Boise State will hold a pair of closed scrimmages against Eastern Washington and Washington instead of playing any exhibition games. Both ‘secret scrimmages’ will be in Boise leading up to the regular season.
A pair of changes were made to Boise State’s regular season schedule. A game against Cal-State Fullerton will no longer happen, and the Broncos will now host Cal-State Bakersfield at ExtraMile Arena on Nov. 26.
A home game against Montana Tech was also shifted to Dec. 19.