SAN DIEGO — Basketball media guides frequently feature a star or key returning player on the cover, but that's not the case this season at San Diego State.
There is no such player.
The Aztecs' top five scorers, top three rebounders and top two assist men last season were seniors. The only returning player with more than a year of major college experience missed last season with a knee injury. There aren't any seniors on the team.
So who did that leave for the cover?
Coach Smokey Gaines, with emphasis on coach . Considering what Gaines is up against this season, good coaching will be essential for the Aztecs to win.
"We're basically looking toward the future," Gaines said. "A lot of people say they don't see how I can win 15 games this year. I'm the type who has gone against a lot of challenges--and mostly won over them. If we improve over last year's record, we'll be making tremendous strides as far as what we are trying to put into place."
The Aztecs are rebuilding from a 10-19 season in which seniors usually were the starting five. The only underclassman with considerable starting experience was center Kevin Brown, who quit the team last week to transfer to Akron. Brown started 16 games in place of the often-injured Steffond Johnson.
Without Brown, Gerald Murray is the Aztecs' center. Murray (6-8) missed last season with a fractured kneecap, reported to practice overweight and has been limited in practice the last two weeks by a sprained ankle.
"If Gerald comes around, he'll be our only true center," Gaines said. "If he doesn't get hurt again and loses a few pounds, we hope to have him by the time the WAC (Western Athletic Conference) season begins."
Murray averaged 3 points and 2.3 rebounds as a sophomore two years ago. He is the only Aztec who has been with the team more than one year.
If Murray is unable to play considerably, Gaines said the Aztecs will go with a three-forward, two-guard offense. Community college transfers Juan Espinoza (6-8) and Rodney Hawkins (6-8), both juniors, would be power forwards and sophomore Johnny Scruggs 6-4) would be the small forward.
"I've never felt comfortable getting banged around under the basket, but I can handle it," Scruggs said. "The high school I came from was full of guards, so I played down low. I've been blessed with a little jumping ability, so that will help."
Scruggs averaged 3.9 points and 2.7 rebounds last season.
Espinoza averaged 15.1 points and 8.5 rebounds at Grossmont College. Hawkins averaged 14.6 points and 9.0 rebounds at Colby College in Kansas.
Sophomore Tracy Dildy (5-11) will replace Creon Dorsey at point guard. Dildy had 73 assists last season, third among the Aztecs.
Gaines said that while he has felt comfortable with Dildy as a leader in practice, he won't know for certain about Dildy's leadership ability until the season begins.
"Right now, it is up to whether the coaches have faith in me," Dildy said. "I think I'm the type who can be a leader. In a sense, I'm like one of the old men on the team because I'm back from last year. That makes me feel more comfortable than if there were a lot of seniors on the team."
Sophomore Josh Lowery (6-4), who averaged 6.1 points last season, will be the off guard. Lowery said he likes to shoot from 20 feet out, which will be important this season since the three-point shot is 19-feet, 9-inches.
Sophomore Darryl Gaines (6-3), Smokey's son, and freshman Tony Ross (6-3) will also play considerably.
Ross averaged 26.0 points last season, leading Grant High School of Portland to the Oregon large schools championship. Smokey Gaines compares Ross to Anthony Watson, SDSU's second-leading all-time scorer, who was a senior last season.
"Right now, we think Tony might be a better player than Anthony Watson before he leaves here," Gaines said. "He shoots from three-point range like it's a layup."
Gaines has had two losing seasons in seven years with the Aztecs. The team was 6-21 his first season, then had five successive winning seasons before 1985-86.
"Last year, I wondered if the battery was weak on the light at the end of the tunnel," Gaines said. "I wondered if it had nine lives. I think that nine-life battery is beginning to shine again for us."
DATE OPPONENT TIME Dec. 1 at UC Santa Barbara 7:30 p.m. Dec. 4 Arizona 7:30 p.m. Dec. 11 USD 7:30 p.m. Dec. 13 CSU-Los Angeles 7:30 p.m. Dec. 19 at Volunteer Classic 4:00 p.m. Dec. 20 at Volunteer Classic TBA Dec. 22 at Memphis State 5:30 p.m. Dec. 27 Holiday Bowl Classic 6:30 p.m. Dec. 28 Holiday Bowl Classic TBA Dec. 29 Northern Iowa 7:30 p.m. Jan. 3 New Mexico 2 p.m. Jan. 5 UTEP 7:30 p.m. Jan. 8 at Air Force 6:30 p.m. Jan. 10 at Colorado State 6:30 p.m. Jan. 15 at Brigham Young 6:30 p.m. Jan. 17 at Utah 2 p.m. Jan. 22 Wyoming 7:30 p.m. Jan. 26 at Hawaii 5:30 p.m. Jan. 29 US International 7:30 p.m. Jan. 31 Miami 7:30 p.m. Feb. 5 Colorado State 7:30 p.m. Feb. 7 Air Force 7:30 p.m. Feb. 13 at UTEP 6:30 p.m. Feb. 14 at New Mexico 6:30 p.m. Feb. 19 at Wyoming 6:30 p.m. Feb. 21 Hawaii 7:30 p.m. Feb. 26 Brigham Young 7:30 p.m. Feb. 28 Utah 7:30 p.m. M 3-7 WAC Tournament TBA
Home games at San Diego Sports Arena
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