The difference is defense for OSU hoops
CORVALLIS — Boy, would Wayne Tinkle have appreciated a mulligan last year.
They don't offer them in college basketball, however.
So Oregon State's fourth-year coach will do what he can to flush away a lost season and get on to what he hopes is the biggest turnaround in the program's long history.
With franchise player Tres Tinkle — Wayne's son — on the sidelines for all but the first six games with a broken wrist, Oregon State suffered through a 5-27 season in 2016-17, the worst record in 117 years of Beaver basketball.
The Beavers finished 1-17 in Pac-12 play and were 0-13 on the road.
"I'm not going to lie," says junior guard Stevie Thompson Jr. "It was a little embarrassing."
"Last year wasn't fun," says junior center Drew Eubanks, the best player in Tres Tinkle's absence a year ago. "We're trying to forget about it, but we still have it in the back of our minds.
"We want to learn from it. All I really thought about during the offseason was winning. I want to win."
Oregon State may be in position to do it. The top nine scorers from last year's team return, led by a healthy Tres Tinkle, who averaged 20.2 points and 8.3 rebounds in his brief stint a year ago.
Also back are the 6-10 Eubanks (14.5 points and 8.3 rebounds), Thompson Jr. (16.3 points) and sophomore guard JaQuori McLaughlin (10.5 points).
The senior Tinkle has brought in reinforcements in 6-8 Seth Berger, a graduate transfer from Massachusetts, along with three freshman standouts — 6-5 guard Ethan Thompson, Stevie's younger brother; 6-4 guard Zach Reichle and 6-6 forward Alfred Hollins.
Two players who started last season — 6-11 junior Gligorije Rakocevic and 6-4 sophomore Kendal Manuel — now will likely provide important contributions off the bench.
"We have some depth," says Wayne Tinkle, who had only his second losing season in 11 years as head coach at OSU and Montana. "And we had none at all last season."
The best news is the return of Tres Tinkle, who with good health probably will be one of the best players in the Pac-12. The 6-8, 220-pound redshirt sophomore has added five pounds of muscle after spending the offseason doing as many as four workouts a day.
As a freshman, Tinkle missed a portion of the season with a broken foot. Last year came the wrist injury.
"This was my first summer to work on my entire game and my body," the lanky left-hander says. "I haven't been able to play basketball or work on my body since high school because of the injuries. I wasn't able to be on the court.
"This spring and summer was a big benefit. I worked with all the coaches on things they suggested for me, and I spent time with trainers in the area, from Portland to Eugene. I felt like I'd missed so much time being out. I love the game of basketball. I wanted to make up for everything."
The Beavers have placed an emphasis on defense, an Achilles heel a year ago.
"We're deeper," Eubanks says. "We're more athletic. We're quicker. We're stronger. That will equal better defense."
That and commitment.
"It's going to take some time to get there, but we'll get there at the defensive end because we have the depth now," the senior Tinkle says. "If guys aren't doing it the way we want, they'll be replaced. But I don't think we'll have to use that tactic much. We have a lot of guys who have the buy-in to trying to make a difference on defense."
Berger, a part-time starter at UMass the past two years, could become an unsung hero.
"Seth has a lot of talent," the senior Tinkle says. "He can stretch the floor with his perimeter shot, he finishes around the basket, he's a great cutter and has high basketball IQ.
"He has to learn to defend better, but the maturity he brings to the locker room will be big. What this team lacks is some maturity. We've galvanized ourselves a little bit, but we're going to need to improve a lot through the season."
The coach has some options with his team's versatility. He can go big with a starting unit that includes Eubanks, Berger, Tres Tinkle, Stevie Thompson Jr. and McLaughlin. He can go smaller, with Tres Tinkle at the 4 and Ethan Thompson at small forward.
All three of the freshmen are likely to be in the rotation.
Ethan Thompson is the most highly rated recruit in Coach Tinkle's time at OSU — ranked 24th nationally by 247 Sports. The son of Beaver assistant coach Stevie Thompson was a first-team prep All-American and the California Player of the Year in leading Bishop Montgomery to the CIF open division state championship. Thompson averaged 22.8 points, 7.7 rebounds and 5.4 assists as a senior.
"From Day One, we can throw him in the middle of it and he'll flourish," the senior Tinkle says.
Says Tres Tinkle: "Ethan's a stud. He brings so much to the table with his ability to pass and score. And he's very competitive. He's not afraid to mix it up with the older guys and go at them."
Hollins, a four-star recruit, helped Hillcrest Prep in Phoenix to the national prep-school championship as a senior.
"Alfred is the first wing we've signed since Tres who has that kind of length and athleticism," the senior Tinkle says. "He can shoot it. He was a lock-down defender in high school who is trying to figure out how to defend at our level. He's a slasher who uses both hands well, can get to the rim, is a good offensive rebounder. As the season goes on, he'll have a bigger role for us."
Reichle was the two-time Class 5A Player of the Year out of Wilsonville, leading the Wildcats to back-to-back state titles while averaging 24.5 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists as a senior. The left-hander might have been the best player on the floor in an Oct. 14 intrasquad scrimmage, knocking down a succession of 3-pointers and hustling all over the floor.
"I love the level of toughness he brings," Coach Tinkle says. "He can shoot, he can drive, but more than anything, he's gritty. He'll go out there and fight."
The players have their sights set high. NCAA Tournament high?
"That can definitely be a goal for us," Stevie Thompson Jr. says. "We have the type of team to be able to come back this year and make up for last year. We're looking forward to being able to prove ourselves."
"We're capable of it," Tres Tinkle says. "We have talent. We have a nice mix of veterans. Our chemistry is great. We put last season behind us, but we've also used it as a motivator. We don't want to go back there. We've set the bar high. We have to come together, but I think we'll be able to do some great things and surprise some people."
"We're going to shock a lot of people with this team," Hollins says. "We're a hungry group. We have a bad taste in our mouths about last year — even the freshmen coming in feel it. We're going to turn a lot of heads."
Wayne Tinkle likes the attitude, but is more reserved with his team goals.
"We're healthy," the coach says. "We've added some talent. That alone won't allow us to turn the page. We have to get better defensively. We need to take better care of the ball than a year ago.
"But the postseason is something we should be shooting for. What tournament? That's still to be determined. If we get better little by little, it should culminate in the end to get some sort of postseason. But that's way down the road. It's (the players') job to think that way, but it's (the coaches') job to keep their feet on the ground and take it one day at a time."