Blinn College men's basketball coach Scott Schumacher will rely on experience and leadership in the Buccaneers' quest for nationals in 2019-20.
With five returners and five sophomore transfers, the Buccaneers are predicted to finish in second-place in the competitive Region XIV South Zone, according to coaches' preseason poll after receiving three first-place votes.
"With as many sophomores, guys who played a lot for us last year, and Division I transfers that we have on this year's team, we are expecting to do some great things this season," Schumacher said. "I really like where we are with our experience and our depth. This team has an opportunity to be the best one since I have been here at Blinn."
Returning for the Buccaneers are guard AJ Rainey (Gary, La.), forwards Tristan Ikpe (Deer Park), Nic Tata (Melbourne, Australia), and Uriel Velis (El Paso), and center Ryan Pollard (West Bountiful, Utah).
"Our returners have matured and grown as people and basketball players since last year," Schumacher said. "Their work ethic has been tremendous and they are a very team-first group of sophomores. They really pull for each other which is a positive for us."
Rainey returns after earning all-conference honors last season. He led Blinn with 4.9 assists per game and was third on the team with 10.9 points per game in 25 starts.
"AJ was our starting point guard last season and has a lot of experience since he has been through the grind of the Region XIV conference," Schumacher said. "He had a very successful freshman year so we are looking for him to capitalize on that."
Last season, Ikpe led Blinn with 7.5 rebounds per game and ranked fourth on the team with 10.1 points per game, while posting a 59.8 field goal percentage.
"Tristan was a double-figure scorer for us last season and our leading rebounder, so we would love for him to continue with those numbers," Schumacher said.
Tata, Velis and Pollard each made 31 appearances for the Buccaneers last season. Tata recorded 5.5 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, Velis tallied 6.1 points and 7 rebounds per game, and Pollard totaled four points and 1.8 rebounds per game.
Transfer sophomores Cardell McGee (Springfield, Ill.), Markus Vallien (Houston), Azariah Seay (Montgomery, Ala.), Pedro Castro (Fort Worth), and Parker Gettys (New Braunfels) will bring experience to the court this season.
"We wanted to add a lot of sophomores to the group of very good returners, and not only were we able to do that, but we hit a grand slam as far as all the talent we recruited," Schumacher said.
McGee transferred from Vicennes University where he appeared in 11 games, Vallien transferred from St. Francis University where he played in 13 games, Seay made 19 appearances for Alabama State University, Castro was crucial to the University of Texas at Arlington in 33 games, and Gettys transfers from McMurry University where he appeared in 12 games.
The Buccaneers added six freshman in Bonke Maring (Cypress), Tyler Washington (Delhi, La.), Calvin Carpenter (Natchitoches, La.), Jacob Paske (Spring), Ethan Austin (Eustace), and Nicholas Statz (Dripping Springs).
"These freshmen are all very good, work hard, and are excited to be here at Blinn," Schumacher said. "
Maring is 6-foot-10 and was named the district's defensive MVP at Cy-Springs High School, Washington was named the district's MVP at Delhi High School, Carpenter earned first-team all-state honors at Natchitoches Central High School and was named the MVP of the Louisiana All-Star game, Paske earned first-team all-district honors at Klein Collins High School, Austin was named the Offensive MVP at Eustace High School, and Statz was a standout athlete at Dripping Springs High School.
Of the 16 players on this season's roster, Blinn boasts eight players who are 6-foot-6 or taller, including three players who are 6-foot-10, one who is 6-foot-9, and one who is 7-foot.
Blinn finished the 2018-19 season with a 21-10 overall record and 8-9 conference record to earn a spot in the Region XIV Tournament. The Buccaneers concluded the season with a 69-68 loss to Kilgore College in the first round.
The 2019-20 season opens tonight at 7:30 p.m. when the Buccaneers take on Beyond Basketball in the Kruse Center.
"I am really looking forward to this season and if these guys make sacrifices, share the ball on offense, guard and rebound, then we have a chance to be very special this year," Schumacher said. "If we win as a team, everyone wins. We want to go to Hutchinson this year."
Blinn has competed in intercollegiate athletics since 1903 and captured 41 NJCAA national championships since 1987.