OSU men's basketball offseason strategy: more rest for Tres Tinkle, more looks at new big men
CORVALLIS — Four years in, Wayne Tinkle hasn't gotten Oregon State's men's basketball program to where he wants it to be. But he feels he is getting closer.
The fourth edition of Beaver Basketball during the Tinkle era went 16-16 overall and 7-11 in Pac-12 play, finishing 10th in the conference ahead of only Washington State (4-14) and California (2-16).
It was a major jump from a year ago, when a talent-shy, injury-depleted team went an embarrassing 5-27.
But the 2017-18 Beavers failed to make the NCAA Tournament — or the NIT, for that matter — for the third time in four years.
The Beavers were excellent at home (13-4) and undeniably bad on the road (1-9). They had a chance for a much better overall record and, at least, a berth in the NIT. Their first 12 losses were all by single digits.
"It was a big step in the right direction," says Tinkle, 57-70 in his time at Oregon State after going 158-81 in eight years at Montana. "We feel like we left some (wins) out there, but a big part of that was coming off a year where we didn't know how to close games out. We didn't have the wherewithal.
"This season, we finished strong and played our best ball late. That set a lot of momentum into motion heading into the offseason and next year."
Over the last three weeks, Oregon State beat Arizona State, won in a blowout at Washington State and knocked off Washington in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament. But the Beavers lost five of their last eight games to fall short of their season goal to make either the NCAA tourney or NIT.
There were problems with 3-point shooting (.329, 11th in the Pac-12) and free-throw shooting (.708, eighth in the league). And there were continuing problems getting things done away from the friendly confines of Gill Coliseum.
"It was about mental toughness, maturity — things we're still trying to build," Tinkle says. "Next year, we'll have our fourth recruiting class. We'll have guys who have been in our program for four years. (The road record) will flip. (At Montana), we were always a really good team on the road. We haven't gotten there yet, but we will."
Oregon State returns four starters and seven of its top nine scorers from this year's team, including Tinkle's son, Tres, an all-Pac-12 first-team selection.
The 6-8 sophomore left-hander led the Beavers in scoring (17.6 points per game), rebounds (7.2) and assists (3.7) after missing most of the previous season with a broken wrist. The senior Tinkle has ordered his son to tone things down during the off-season as he gets ready for his junior year.
"Tres went way overboard in preseason training," the OSU coach says. "I understand. He'd missed a year and was hungry. You'd rather have to pull back the reins than kick him in the ass to get him going. But rest and recovery are just as important as strength and conditioning.
"He had a remarkable year. He'll be the main leader next season, and he'll have some more weapons to help get him some easier baskets. This year, he had to create a lot for himself and for others."
The Thompson brothers, Stevie Jr., and Ethan, will be back along with promising 6-6 freshman Alfred Hollins, who cracked the starting lineup late in the season.
Gone will be junior center Drew Eubanks, who has declared for the NBA draft.
"It's going to be tough to replace what Drew brought to the table," Tinkle says. "But we have three big guys coming in, and we'll add to the recruiting class this spring. We feel like we'll be much improved. We told Drew, we thought with him we could be an elite team. We still think we're going to be pretty darn good."
The 2018-19 Beavers will be young, with two seniors and one junior among the six returnees now that guard Kendal Manuel has announced he will transfer. Tinkle has six scholarships available. Three of them will go to big men landed during the early signing period — 7-footers Kylor Kelley, a sophomore from Lane Community College, and Jack Wilson of Half Moon Bay, California, and 6-11 Warren Washington of San Marcos, California.
Kelley, who prepped at Gervais High, played as a freshman at Northwest Christian in Eugene, where he averaged 8.6 points, 8.8 rebounds and 5.6 blocked shots. Kelley's coach at Northwest Christian, former Oregon star and NBA veteran Luke Jackson, says Kelley has NBA potential. He transferred to Lane this season, where he averaged 9.9 points, 7.5 rebounds and a league-high 4.6 blocks in 19 games.
"Kylor had a foot injury the second half of the season, which inhibited his ability to get up the floor," Tinkle says. "He can protect the rim defensively, but he's also a face-up guy who can screen-and-roll and shoot it from distance.
"I love his length and athleticism. He has a good feel for the game. He's a really good passer who can handle the double-team and step away and shoot. He needs to get into the weight room, but he brings a lot of versatility."
Wilson had a back injury and didn't play at all this season after averaging 16.2 points and 10.4 rebounds as a junior. He turned down offers from California and other Division I schools to sign with OSU.
"Jack has rehabbed the back and will play some AAU tournaments this spring to get attuned to being back on the court," Tinkle says. "He's about 255 or 260 pounds, a big, physical kid. He'll be a presence around the basket. How quickly he pays dividends, who knows? But we're excited to have him."
Tinkle says Washington averaged 21.4 points and 12.2 rebounds while shooting 51 percent from the field as a senior this season. Mission Hills High coach Curtis Hofmeister, who coached San Diego State center Kameron Rooks in high school, calls Washington the best passing big man he has coached.
"Warren can shoot, handle, run and jump," Tinkle says. "He's an athletic 4 man, but he'll also need some time in the weight room."
Tinkle plans to add three more recruits, though they'll come after the April 11 late signing date. No. 1 on his list is a veteran point guard, either from the JC ranks or a graduate transfer. Among those the Beavers have interest in are Ricky Torres of Missouri State-West Plains JC, Tyler Cheese of Florida Southwest State JC and Justin Coleman of Samford.
Two prep stars who signed with Connecticut but were released when coach Kevin Ollie was fired — 6-foot point guard James Akinjo of Richmond, California, and 6-7 Emmitt Matthews of Tacoma — are on OSU's list, though word is Akinjo may be headed for Arizona.
"We're looking to get a point guard, and we need to add some length and athleticism at the 4," Tinkle says. "We have a line on some good players, and we have some good bigs already coming in. As we get toward the end of May, we'll have a good idea where we're at.
"We have some quality options, and the kids we're involved with, we haven't just been involved with the last week or two. It's been for months."
Tinkle was disappointed to go .500 this season, but remains optimistic about the future.
"We wanted to make the postseason, and we were close," he says. "We let a few slip away or we're playing in (the NIT on NCAA Tournament). Next year, we feel like that is going to happen."