BOISE - Entering his seventh season as head coach of Boise State’s basketball program, Leon Rice joked on the team’s first day of practice Monday that it feels quite similar to when he first took over the program.
"It feels like I've started the program over again," he said. "Feels like we did six or seven years ago, and so for me, that kind of re-energizes you and gets you excited and to have this many good, young guys that we are excited about. That makes for a bright future.
"There's just so many unanswered questions," Rice added. "There's some years where I go, ok, I know exactly where we will be or close to it ... and this year is a team where I have no idea."
The Broncos return just one starter from last season - senior Nick Duncan. The Australian forward pairs with the only other senior on the team - guard James Reid, who sat out last season after transferring from Arkansas Little-Rock - to form a nice duo to rely upon for leadership this year.
"(Nick's) a great leader, he's got the best attitude he's ever had (and) he's hungry to have a great senior year," said Rice. "(Duncan and Reid) are just awesome guys, they're both great students, great citizens, terrific leaders, and so I'm just hoping they have the senior years they deserve."
Sophomore Paris Austin showed flashes last season as a freshman as to why he was such a highly-touted recruit coming out of California, and he’s being counted on to take his game to a whole new level this season after averaging 12 minutes and four points per game last season.
"He's made a jump and we've got a long ways to go with him for him to be the point guard we need him to be," Rice said of Austin. "As a sophomore he's really got to step up his game and his leadership and how to make guys better, because he can already go get baskets, he's proven that at a high level."
Junior Chandler Hutchison (6.8 points per game) and sophomore Zach Haney (3.1 points per game) are also being counted on for an increase in production this year, as are freshman Malek Harwell and sophomore David Wacker, who both sat out last season due to medical redshirts.
The off-season losses of star players James Webb III, Anthony Drmic and Mikey Thompson means each of these young players will have the opportunity to step up this season.
"One thing that really gets me fired up about this team is the way they care about each other and the way they move the ball," Rice said. "I think this might be one of the best teams we'll have, or that we've ever had and we've had some really good teams that can move the ball and fun to watch, and I think this team is going to be really fun to watch."
Rice also has a relatively new coaching staff this season, with the additions of Mike Burns and Phil Beckner, and the duo has continued to impress Coach Rice since arriving on campus, especially with their talent development skills already being put to work.
On his two new assistant coaches, Rice said, "I think I hit home runs and with all these young guys I wanted to go hire, you know the number one thing is player development and I think I hit absolute home runs in those departments, and that's going to bode well with the future of this program. I always say we are a development program, we are not a recruiting program and we have to get guys that want to get better."
Besides the two new assistant coaches, Coach Rice also welcomes five new players - four true freshmen and one JUCO transfer - to his roster this season, and that group has impressed coaches since arriving on campus.
"Our freshman don't look like freshman, now they don't look like sophomores, but they don't look like guys that this is their first practice," Rice said.
Boise State will open up exhibition play on Friday, Oct. 28 at home against Lewis-Clark State. The Broncos first regular season game will be Saturday, Nov. 12, at home against Northwest College (Ore.). The non-conference schedule will feature a Nov. 28 road game at likely top-10 opponent Oregon, as well as home game on Nov. 30 against likely top-25 opponent SMU.
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