It’s basketball time again in Durango, and Fort Lewis College men’s basketball is gearing up for another run.
The Skyhawks will be looking to make another run at the top of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, an area they’ve been in the vicinity of ever since head coach Bob Hofman’s second stint on the FLC bench began in the 2000-01 season.
Since the start of the 2001-02 season, FLC hasn’t won fewer than 16 games and has finished in the top four of the conference every season, winning RMAC titles in 2005 and 2008 and making NCAA Tournament appearances in 2002, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2013 to go with a pair of RMAC Shootout crowns.
This year’s squad seems poised for more of the same, with the return of last year’s RMAC Defensive Player of the Year, Alex Herrera, and an enviable amount of athleticism, depth and shooting ability at shooting guard and small forward.
Herrera’s worked on adding to his offensive repertoire, including the ability to score while stepping away from the basket, in the hopes of making it easier to avoid the double teams he’s sure to see after averaging 15.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game last season.
“I know I’m going to see double teams all year. ... It’s just picking spots,” the Ignacio High School alumnus said at Thursday’s practice. “This summer I kind of worked on off the block a little bit, moved off the block.”
And it’s up to Hofman to find new ways to use his multi-talented center.
“He’s already really improved. He’s got a nice medium-range game now,” Hofman said. “I’ve never been very good with per se legitimate big men, so I’ve got to do a good job of really incorporating him as really a dominant force.”
To loosen things up in the paint, FLC will need to remain a threat from the perimeter, and the tools are in place to do just that. The Skyhawks were second in the RMAC in 3-point field-goal percentage last season, connecting on 38.5 percent of their attempts.
Nick Tomsick and his 14.6 points per game return, as do guards Mike Matthews and Wes McKenzie, both capable shooters from deep after shooting .319 and .404 beyond the arc last year, respectively. And Lucas Archuleta and Jacob Gondrezick return from injury to add to the backcourt depth both at off guard and at the point.
“I think we both compliment each other really well because if they try to take Chief (Herrera) away, it allows me to have more open shots. It allows Joe (Bell Austin) to penetrate without getting doubled,” Tomsick said. “It pretty much just allows people not to be double teamed.”
The continued growth of a pair of sophomore wings will be critical for FLC, as well. Cade Kloster and Jared Smith showed flashes of potential as freshmen a season ago, and improvements in consistency that typically come with age and experience would be a welcome sight for the Skyhawks on both sides of the ball, as both are the long defenders and solid shooters Hofman covets.
The big hole on paper after last year is at point guard, where Marcus Ayala and Matt Mazarei ran things a year ago before graduating. Both were plus on-ball defenders, and Ayala became one of the league’s top offensive threats as the season wore on.
Look for FLC to give junior college transfer Austin a long look at the point, with Gondrezick and a pair of freshmen from Austin, Texas – Rasmus Bach and Will Morse – and DJ Blackmon possibly working into the mix at either guard position.
“We have to see how we’re going to distribute, in particular late in the game (at) point, so it’ll be interesting to see how that develops,” Hofman said.
The frontcourt depth took a hit with the graduation of Torrey Udall after last season. Kody Salcido saw spot action a year ago off the bench, while another IHS alumnus Ryan Brooks and transfer Oscar Garcia also should see time when Herrera steps out or FLC opts to go with a bigger lineup, which the Skyhawks usually did to open games a season ago.
Now it’s all about finding the right lineup, the right rotation for what should be an open fight for the RMAC’s top spot. And, as usual, Hofman’s not sure how it’ll shake out, but he’s gunning to have it dialed in by the time conference play opens in December.
“We’re definitely in the developmental stage,” Hofman said. “I think we have the opportunity to get a lot, lot better.”