BOISE — Boise State men’s basketball coach Leon Rice had no problem with being picked second in the preseason Mountain West media poll behind San Diego State.
It’s the top spot in the regular season that he wants.
The Broncos received four first-place votes but finished second in the poll behind San Diego State, which had 14 first-place votes after going 30-2 last year under coach Brian Dutcher.
“He can have that one,” Rice joked. “That’s fine.”
The announcement was made Wednesday in conjunction with the start of Mountain West Men’s Basketball Media Days, which is being held virtually this year over a two-day span.
The Broncos did take home one big preseason honor. Senior Derrick Alston Jr. was named the Preseason Mountain West Player of the Year.
Alston is the top returning scorer in the Mountain West at 17.3 points per game. He also had 5.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists, which landed him on the All-Mountain West Second Team last season.
“I found out when everybody else did this morning, but its definitely a huge honor to be recognized like that,” Alston said. “I’m super thankful for that and it gets me excited for the season and to get back playing. I’m excited to get going.”
As a skinny redshirt freshman walk-on three years ago, Alston played just 26 minutes and made three baskets all season. Wednesday he was named the best player in the conference heading into the season.
The honor continued an impressive rise for Alston, who arrived at Boise State so fragile and skinny as a 6-foot-8, 148-pound freshman in 2016 that Rice joked it would have been a safety hazard to put him in the game.
The 6-9 Alston declared for the NBA Draft in March before electing to return to Boise State for his senior season. His goal is to improve his stock enough this season to become a first-round pick.
“He’s just got such a consistency to him now,” Rice said. “Day in and day out, he does what the game tells him to do. Some days he’s going to have 10 assists, the next day he’ll have 10 rebounds and the next day he’ll score 30 points. I think it will be different with Derrick every night.
“His versatility has even grown with having some more guys that can do some things around him.”
Alston averaged just 0.6 points per game during the 2017-18 season before a breakout sophomore campaign saw him jump into the starting lineup and average 13.4 points per game.
Last year as a junior he continued to get better, upping his average to 17.3 points per game and establishing himself as one of the best players in the Mountain West — and a legitimate NBA prospect.
He’s the first Boise State player to earn preseason Mountain West Player of the Year honors since Chandler Hutchison in 2017.
“I worked really hard this summer to improve and be more efficient,” Alston said. “With the team that we have this year it’s going to allow me to really use every facet of my game, so I’m really excited about that.”
As a team, Boise State went 20-12 last season and reached the semifinals of the Mountain West Tournament. It would have been in the mix for an NIT bid before the postseason was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Broncos return contributors Abu Kigab, RayJ Dennis and Max Rice and add four high-level Division I transfers including two former top-100 recruits from the University of Arizona.
It’s by all accounts the most talented roster since Rice arrived in 2010, and many are saying it could be the best group of players in school history. San Diego State got the preseason nod based in part because of recent success, but the Broncos figure to be prime contenders to battle for the regular season crown.
“Obviously the talent speaks for itself,” Alston said. “I think coming off last year our team was strong and the returners we have plus the addition of the new guys, once we get our chemistry and get clicking on on all cylinders, we’re going to be really dangerous.”
Utah State was predicted to finish third while UNLV was fourth, Colorado State was fifth and Nevada was sixth. New Mexico came in seventh, Fresno State was eighth, Wyoming was ninth, Air Force was 10th and San Jose State was 11th.
The Mountain West is expected to release an updated schedule in the coming days. Teams will play 10 two-game series, five home and five road, in which teams will play the same opponent in the same city twice in a three-day span. The change will help eliminate four road trips per team this season as they attempt to play in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Boise State is currently scheduled to start the season against a non-Division I team on Nov. 25 before traveling to play No. 17 Houston on Nov. 27.
BRONCOS SIGN A PAIR
Boise State also announced the additions of two players Wednesday on the first day of the early signing period for the 2021 class.
The Broncos signed 6-7 forward Tyson Degenhart from Spokane, Washington, and 6-7 guard RJ Keene from The Woodlands, Texas. Both are seniors in high school and will join the program next summer.
“What a terrific early signing class,” Rice said. “Those two are going to be really good guys here at Boise State. They are both really, really good basketball players and will bring stuff that we need. Both can shoot, both are high scorers, both have high-level feel for the game and they have a strong work ethic so they will continue to get better and better.”