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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)
COACH AND PROGRAM
San Diego coach Brad Holland's worst fear is that his team's entire season rests on a wobbly ankle.
The Toreros have some experience back, including a couple of double-digit scorers and the West Coast Conference's most accurate shooter in 2005-06. But
a player who last season averaged just 5.1 points
and 2.0 rebounds could be the key to San Diego's success this year.
Guard Ray Murdock, a 6-3 sophomore Holland called "the hardest worker on the team" and a big player in Holland's three-guard lineup, is battling a potentially serious ankle injury that could end his season before it begins.
How serious? Well, much to Holland's horror, Murdock's injury has been compared to the one that virtually destroyed the career of NBA star Grant Hill.
Holland said Murdock's ankle will be immobilized to see if an extended rest will correct the problem, but there is no guarantee it will work.
With Murdock, the Toreros' backcourt trio is solid. Without him, Holland isn't even sure what his lineup will look like.
"I haven't thought that through, and I don't want to, because I'm not ready for Ray not to be with us," he said. "We might go to four guards, I don't know. I'm not sure how we'll do that. But we'll have to adjust a lot, not having Ray Murdock.
"We're not thinking in those terms. We're thinking positively that this will do the trick, letting it heal up and avoiding surgery. I don't want to be too negative, but I am concerned."
Murdock's importance to the Toreros is difficult to quantify. Holland loves his versatility, his ability to defend, his aggressiveness and his work ethic. Take all that out of the rotation and the resulting void would be very difficult to fill.
"He's a very important player, and, frankly, without him I don't know how good we can be," Holland said. "With Ray Murdock, we're a much more substantial team. I think that much of Ray and his game. This could be a big blow for us if he's not able to come back and play."
If Murdock plays, he'll team with point guard Brandon Johnson and do-it-all senior Ross DeRogatis in a group expected to be the backbone of the team.
Johnson (9.3 ppg, 4.1 apg), a 6-0 sophomore, made the WCC All-Freshman team with his combination of setup skills and scoring ability. He finished the season ranked fourth in the league in assists.
The 6-1 DeRogatis (12.0 ppg, 3.8 apg) is rock steady in every phase of the game. He led the team in minutes played last season, averaging more than 32 per game. He hit .416 from three-point range.
"Ross can get it going," Holland said. "He has a very quick release and he comes off screens well. He's a durable player. You might not call him a true point guard, but he's played a lot of point for us and he's done a good job of running our team, getting us in our offense and knocking down some shots. He's a versatile, valuable player."
If Murdock can't play, the Toreros will need that versatility, because there isn't much proven backcourt depth behind the starters.
Most of the experience among that group comes from 6-4 sophomore Danny Brown (2.4 ppg, 0.6 rpg). Brown struggled as a shooter, but Holland said he has improved in the off-season and will probably be an important backup.
"Once he gains confidence out there, he's going to become very productive," Holland said.
The rest of the reserves are new to the Toreros. DeJon Jackson, a 6-2 freshman from Fresno, Calif., is a skilled combination guard who will "command minutes," Holland said, while 6-2 junior Clayton Tolbert, a transfer from West Valley (Calif.) Junior College, is ready after red-shirting last season.
Another incoming freshman, 6-2 Brandon Dowdy of Redlands, Calif., is being groomed as a designated defensive stopper, but Holland said he might be a year away from getting extended playing time.
Greg Nelson Jr., a 6-0 junior transfer from Cal Poly, is available after a red-shirt season.
Up front, there are two big holes to fill, created by the departure of All-WCC performers Nick Lewis
and Corey Belser. The Toreros will miss their scoring punch, rebounding and defense, but mostly, they will miss their size. San Diego has some seasoned hands back, but they lack the height and reach of the 6-10 Lewis and 6-6 Belser.
The two inside spots are expected to be manned by bulky 6-7 senior Nir Cohen (7.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg) and 6-7 sophomore Gyno Pomare (10.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg), who showed tremendous potential and earned conference all-freshman honors.
"Gyno plays taller than his size, which is good," Holland said. "Nir is a big, physical kid who plays post defense well. Offensively, he can shoot the three a little and can play with his back to the basket."
They'll be supported by 6-7 Chris Lewis, a promising red-shirt freshman who will get a look at both forward spots, and senior Theo White (2.6 ppg, 2.8 rpg). White is undersized for an inside man at 6-5, but at 240 pounds, he's a pure power player.
A pair of newcomers -- 6-8 sophomore Daniel Fleming of Citrus (Calif.) College and 6-8 freshman Joshua Miller from Ayala, Calif. -- will also make a pitch for playing time up front. Fleming, who practiced for a season as a red-shirt at UC Riverside before going to junior college, will push hard for a role as a primary backup.
BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS
With a healthy Murdock, the Toreros' lineup features a veteran at every position. Without him, they'll have to plug in a replacement and cut further into their already shaky depth.
Size -- or lack of it -- is a major factor for San Diego. Rebounding is a concern for Holland, whose team will have a height disadvantage against almost every opponent.
"We're a little bit undersized compared to most teams we play," he said, "so we need to be very good at blocking out and beating people to the ball."
To compensate for their height issues, the Toreros are likely to alter their style a little. While they played mostly a half-court game last season, Holland said he might pick up the pace and extend his defense into the backcourt.
"We may press a bit more," he said. "I think we're going to be able to do that with this club. I try to play the game according to our personnel, so I vary
from year to year how much I press, how much I zone and so on, depending on our guys. This year's team may dictate that we press more because we're a little smaller and quicker."
For the most comprehensive previews available on all Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2006-07 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbook.com or call 1-866-805-BALL (2255).