Toledo Men’s Basketball Head Coach Stan Joplin said he knows he has a talented core of players returning for the 2005-06 season. It’s hard to deny when seven of the team’s top eight scorers return and the Rockets have already been marked as preseason MAC West Division favorites to counter defending conference champion and East Division favorite Ohio University. Joplin said his team has tremendous depth all the way into its freshman stash.
”I don’t think we have a starting team. We have a lot of players who are going to play. When we go to the bench there’s no drop off. But when we go to the bench those guys have to play well,” Joplin said.
Four starters and a prominent junior center return from last year’s MAC West champion roster. Preseason All-MAC West choice Sammy Villegas leads the Rockets assault. A serious three-point threat (third all-time for UT in 3-pt field goals with 203), the 6-6 senior SG brings a bright attitude and a wealth of talent to the floor. Joplin said Villegas had a disappointing season last year, averaging 9.3 ppg in after enjoying a 13.8 rate his sophomore year.
”He’s ready to bounce back and have the type of year he’s capable of having,” Joplin said.
Rejoining Villegas in the backcourt is team captain and junior PG Justin Ingram. Ingram is being counted on to run the point and create numerous opportunities from up top, although Joplin said he’ll play minutes at shooting guard. As leader of the team’s mental and physical performances this season, Ingram bears a lot of weight on his shoulders.
”I’m pretty much the middle man. Whatever coach tells me, I relay that to my teammates,” Ingram said.
More firepower reemerges in junior Keonta Howell. The 6-4 G/F started in 12 games and averaged just over a half’s worth of playing time per game last season. Howell tied for third on the team in scoring with 9.3 ppg and drained the basket at an astonishing pace of 49.5 percent, augmented by a 44.7 percentage from trifecta territory. He’s a strong candidate to lead the team in scoring.
Also returning is junior F Florentino Valencia. Considered by many to be the team’s fiery emotional leader, the 6-5 Valencia gives Joplin a scrappy physical force in the middle and has extended his shooting ability into the midrange realm. Last season Valencia was second on the team in points with a 9.9 average.
Senior F Anton Currie is still recovering from surgery on a sports hernia. Joplin said he should be fully recovered in December. When Currie returns, he’ll give UT considerable rebounding and three-point augmentation.
Junior C Allen Pinson offers UT dynamic influence at center. Pinson, while battling for tipoffs and in-the-paint rebounds, brings a diverse range of shooting capability to Toledo’s interior presence. He’s particularly effective at C when launching shots from three-point land. During last year’s campaign, he knocked down 6-14 trey attempts in hitting 43 percent outside the arc. Standing 6-10 and weighing 235 lbs., Pinson is athletically sound and gives the Rockets coveted mobility inside.
Sophomore PG Kashif Payne will see plenty of time in the backcourt either spelling Ingram or when Joplin shifts Ingram to SG. At 5-9 and 155 lbs., Payne is the type of deft darting playmaker and badgering defender who can cause opponents a lot of frustration on both sides of the orange.
A key component in the team’s success will be sophomore F Jerrah Young. The transfer from West Virginia sat out last year due to regulations but has already shown in the preseason he’s ready to cure UT’s rebounding woes from last season, when G Ingram led the team in boards. He also possesses a smooth touch and should score frequently in boosting the already loaded roster.
Joplin has three exciting freshmen in Gs Ridley Johnson, Jonathan Amos and Tyrone Kent. Johnson is exciting on the floor with great hustle and a veteran-like touch on the rim. He’s scrappy and sacrifices his frame for loose balls. Amos has natural shooter written all over him and showed that in tying for the team lead with 11 points in the lone exhibition game against Wayne State. Kent comes out of a loaded Chicagoland hoops well as one of Illinois’ most highly touted players from last year.
”We’re really happy with our freshman and overall I’m really happy with numbers that we have,” Joplin said.