RUSTON – From 1983 to 1992, the Louisiana Tech Dunkin’ Dogs had the 12th best winning percentage in all of college basketball.
Every year fans could expect at least 20 wins, a postseason appearance and star players racking up postseason accolades.
That consistency of excellence is ongoing; the program has racked up the 11th best winning percentage in the past four seasons combined in the country. That includes a league-best 40-12 record since joining Conference USA in 2013.
So on Oct. 6, it was unfamiliar territory as it was announced that LA Tech was picked to finish seventh in the C-USA preseason poll. Being the underdog is not a position the Bulldogs are accustomed to. Maybe the league coaches who voted are expecting a drop off with the departure of Conference Player of the Year Alex Hamilton as well as two starters who transferred.
The team is currently in the midst of fall practice in an effort to finish much higher than the poll suggests.
“We have had 13 practices,” said head coach Eric Konkol who led the ‘Dogs in his first year at the helm to 23 wins, a tie for third in the conference and the program’s fourth consecutive postseason appearance. “I know we can count on effort and competition. The guys have been very competitive.
“Execution is a work in progress, but we have put in a lot of things. Now over the next 17 opportunities we get to practice, we get to tighten it up and get ready to play our first game.”
The senior duo of Erik McCree and Qiydar Davis will play a huge role in continuing the standard of excellence that has been set. They will also be trying to elevate it in the form of getting to the NCAA Tournament, something that has not been done since 1991.
Everyone knows what McCree is capable of (see the 33-point performance in the win over league champion UAB). He was a second team All-Conference USA selection last season, averaging 16 points and eight boards a game. He is now stronger and more motivated than ever.
Then there is Davis, a player who was starting to emerge last season averaging 11 points and seven rebounds per game, before suffering a season-ending injury in early December. Davis was able to receive a medical hardship waiver, giving him a second chance at a strong senior season.
“They are both different players,” Konkol said about the duo. “They really play off of each other. Qiydar is really progressing since his knee injury last December, getting into that game shape. You can count on his enthusiasm and his effort, especially on defense in the press. He is also scoring the ball.
“Erik is really motivated to have a great senior year. This is his third year of playing in this program. He has worked extremely hard. He is scoring the ball very well on top of defending and rebounding. We are asking a lot out of those two and they are delivering so far.”
Perhaps the best Bulldog in practice thus far has been junior Jacobi Boykins. The left-handed sharp shooter started in 29 games last season and looks to become a lockdown defender to go along with his increased scoring ability on offense.
“He is stronger than he has ever been,” Konkol said of Boykins. “He has gained a little bit of weight if you can believe it. He is shooting the ball well, he is defending. He is making a lot of different winning plays and I am excited about his junior year.”
At point guard, a position that has seen back-to-back All-Americans in Speedy Smith and Hamilton, sophomore Derric Jean appears ready to carry on the torch. Jean did not start a single game his freshman year, but he played starters minutes while leading the team in three-point shooting percentage and was second on the team in total assists.
“Derric had some great experience last year,” Konkol said. “He played a lot of minutes in key moments. He has seen a lot. He made a half-court shot to win a game. I think he has earned the right to have a great sophomore season. He has put in a lot of time and effort into his game and he is ready.”
The front court will see the return of 7-footer Joniah White, who like Davis, missed most of last year and is back. The rim protector showed glimpses of his dominance in the win at Ohio State.
There is also junior college transfer Omar Sherman, a load at 6-8, 250 pounds, who started at Miami (Fla.) as a freshman in 2014-15 while Konkol was on staff and Jy’lan Washington who led LA Tech in total blocks as a true freshman.
Above all, developing depth has arguably been the most important part of practice so far. Insert Da’Shawn Robinson who returns for his senior year and sophomore Luke Walker to go along with four high school newcomers who are here to help the Bulldogs continue that standard of excellence.
“We have four freshmen,” Konkol said. “JaColby Pemberton is going to be out this season. He is still rehabiliting a knee injury he had last March. He is using this year to get better and stronger. The other three we are going to need contributions from. DaQuan Bracey from Baltimore is very fast. We want him to play the point and play with Derric Jean at times.
“Jalen Harris is a combo guard from Duncanville, Texas. He can play multiple positions and scores the ball well. Then Oliver Powell, we are going to need him in the front court to rebound and defend. We need all three of them.”
LA Tech opens the 2016-17 season on Nov. 11 at SEC foe South Carolina. The schedule consists of 17 games in the Thomas Assembly Center as well as a neutral site game in Bossier City.
Season tickets are on sale and can be purchased by calling 318-257-3631 or emailing [email protected]
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