BSU Basketball Coach Leon Rice

Head coach Leon Rice directs members of the Boise State men’s basketball team during practice in the Broncos’ practice gym on July 10, 2018.

BOISE — There were thunderous dunks, fast-paced drills, long 3-pointers and a number of highlight-reel plays earlier this week inside the Boise State men’s basketball practice gym.

Gone are the days in which the Broncos may have been easily confused with the swim team while walking through an airport. The new-look Boise State squad for 2019-2020 looks every bit the part — with size, skill and plenty of athleticism.

Boise State’s three transfers, freshman point guard and improved returners all gathered in Boise on Monday for the first of five weeks of summer practices and conditioning workouts. And the difference compared to last year’s team was obvious to those in attendance.

“Our gym has changed,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said. “It has a different look to it.”

Boise State went 13-20 last season and established a program record for the most losses in a season. They went 1-9 in games decided by three points or less or overtime and lost 10 games in which they held a lead at the half.

But a retooled roster has the Broncos aiming for the program’s third NCAA Tournament in eight years.

Oregon transfer Abu Kigab will become eligible at the end of the first semester, while the Broncos are hoping to get Arizona transfer Emmanuel Akot cleared to play this year due to the FBI investigation into the college basketball bribery scandal at Arizona that sent former assistant coach Book Richardson to prison. Both Kigab and Akot are former top-100 recruits that bring Pac-12 experience — and a high level of athleticism — to the Broncos.

Also arriving in Boise this week was freshman point guard RayJ Dennis, a highly touted prospect out of Chicago that is expected to play a major role immediately. And the Broncos officially added three redshirt freshmen to the mix that sat out last season in 6-foot-10 forward Mikey Frazier and guards Riley Abercrombie and Max Rice.

And that doesn’t even include Derrick Alston, the All-Mountain West performer who burst onto the national scene with a breakout sophomore season in which he upped his production from 0.6 points to 13.4 points per game, or returning starters Justinian Jessup, Marcus Dickinson and Alex Hobbs.

“You’ve got a lot of guys that are athletic and a lot of guys that can shoot the ball,” Rice said. “A lot of skill. And more options. We didn’t have very many options last year and certainly not enough depth, but that all kind of changes.”

NCAA rules allow teams to have up to four hours of team practices per week during the summer, and another four hours of conditioning and weight lifting sessions. Players will spend other time in the gym on their own shooting and playing pickup games.

With the increased talent and motivation from a disappointing 2018-19 season, the Broncos appear to have the pieces for a much better team this season. And the work towards that has already started.

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“I love the character of these guys,” Rice said. “They all want to get better. They are willing to work and you have a bunch of guys who you don’t have to worry about getting them to the gym and having them put in the time and work hard. They want to play basketball and be in the gym.

“What we went through last year, they are excited to work and they know that will really make a difference. I’ve already seen that with what they did before they got here and how they came in shape and the look they have. It’s pretty evident.”


Boise State’s nonconference schedule in nearing completion. The Broncos recently announced home games against BYU and UC Irvine and will also play UNC-Wilmington at home. They have road trips to Oregon and Pacific and will play in the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii with Washington, Houston and Georgia Tech.

The Broncos plan to open the season Nov. 5 against a to-be-determined non-Division I team, and still have three other home games to finalize (likely against non-marquee opponents). The 18 Mountain West Conference games will give them a total of 30 games in the regular season.

“You scroll through our preseason and it’s really, really going to be a challenge,” Rice said. “I think BYU will end up being a top 25 team, Irvine won its league again and last year they were a couple minutes from the Sweet 16. We have those two home games, plus we’re playing at Oregon and they were in the Sweet 16 last year and we’re in Hawaii with some really, really good teams.

“Houston is going to be a top-25 team and I’d be surprised if Washington at some point wasn’t a top-25 team. Our preseason is loaded.”


Rice said there was no update on a timetable for finding out the status of Akot, and said he’s not factoring in who might or might not be eligible next year during summer workouts.

“It’s a little too early for that,” Rice said. “We’ll wait and see on all that stuff. You’re going to have Abu at the semester so you are certain of that. Sometimes you have injuries you don’t plan for, so planning for that kind of stuff in July is frivolous and a waste of time.

“We’re just trying to develop these guys as much as we can in the next 35 days and then they get about two weeks off and come back and away we go.”

The only player yet to arrive on campus is East Tennessee State transfer Mladen Armus, who is home in Serbia with his family. He will sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules, but will join the team in August.

B.J Rains has covered Boise State athletics for the Idaho Press since 2013. He is an Associated Press Top 25 men's basketball poll voter, and also contributes to KBOI-TV as a Boise State insider.

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