BOISE — Members of the Boise State men’s basketball team threw around the traditional first day of practice comments Tuesday about their excitement for the upcoming season and how talented the team could be this year.
Marcus Dickinson dropped a different word: special.
After going 1-9 in games decided by three points or less or overtime last season, the Broncos know they were actually pretty close to turning a 13-20 season into at least a 20-13 one. And they hope to show that this year.
“I don’t like to get a big head about it but I think we have a really special group,” the senior point guard said. “Last year we were this close to being this good and now we have guys coming in and we have a really special group. We’re ready to make noise this year.”
Famed basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy ranked Boise State as not only the unluckiest team in the nation last year, but the unluckiest in terms of expected record vs. actual record in more than a decade.
The Broncos had talent and were competitive in most games until the final minutes. But they’d crumble down the stretch and struggle to make the big play in the big situation. They lost 10 games in which they led at halftime.
“The games were probably just a minute too long last year,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said. “Hopefully we can finish a little bit better this year. We’ve got a great nucleus back and I think we added the pieces that compliment the guys we have back. I’m excited to watch them.”
The 20 losses were the most in a single season in Boise State history, but as crazy as it sounds, flipping just four of those close losses into wins would have given them a winning record.
The overwhelming sentiment from Rice and the veteran players Tuesday was that the Broncos are much more equipped to finish games and have a successful season this time around. Among the reasons? More experience, more talent and a deeper bench.
Four starters return including Derrick Alston, a potential NBA Draft pick in the next year or two.
“We’re a lot deeper,” senior guard Justinian Jessup said. “I think we’re at least eight deep for sure. We definitely don’t have just one guy that people know we’re going to rely on like my first few years. I think this year could be one of our best offensive groups for sure. Our chemistry, our ball movement, I think it could be a really good offensive year.
“I’m really excited but at the end of the day everybody can be good on paper. We have to come out here and start to prove ourselves. We have to show we’re good instead of just talking about it.”
Jessup, Dickinson, Alston and Alex Hobbs return to form a solid nucleus of talented veterans, and the Broncos have returners RJ Williams and Robin Jorch inside. Boise State welcomes in three players that redshirted last year in forward Mikey Frazier and guards Riley Abercrombie and Max Rice, while freshman point guard RayJ Dennis also arrives with plenty of accolades.
Oregon transfer Abu Kigab will become eligible after the first semester, and the Broncos are still waiting to hear on the status of Arizona transfer Emmanuel Akot. They hope to have him eligible to play this year, but have not heard on the status of their appeal to the NCAA.
“What they bring could really impact this team,” Rice said of the two Pac-12 transfers.
Rice also noted that the Broncos have eliminated the 'clutter’ that held them back at times last season. Without getting specific, a pair of players that have since transferred out of the program — Pat Dembley and Jaycson Bereal — would seem to fit the description. Both were arrested for separate altercations at downtown bars and never seemed to fit with the program.
"Right now I've got 15 guys pulling the rope in the same direction and maybe collectively as a group the hardest working group I've had," Rice said. "This group has talent and works hard, and if you put that all together it could lead to some great things."
Players were back in the gym a week after last season ended with a close loss to Nevada in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Tournament. With a frustrating season now six months behind them, the Broncos have new energy and hope as preseason practices kick off.
They might even be due a little good luck as well.
“I can’t explain how excited we are to get started,” Dickinson said. “We have so much to prove.”
Boise State has more than a month before hosting West Coast Baptist in the lone exhibition game on Oct. 31. They open the regular season at home Nov. 5 against Life Pacific.