Lions trying to get healthy
Vanguard University men’s basketball coach Rhett Soliday is proud of the fact that his players have developed a reputation for competing right up to the breaking point. It’s those breaks, as well as the strains, pulls and tears, however, he hopes to better avoid.
A rash of injuries have diminished personnel options for Soliday the last three seasons, disabling any chance of regaining the magic that led to the 2014 NAIA Division I national championship.
True to form, this season begins with returning All-Golden State Athletic Conference center Zach Allmon and starting junior shooting guard Malachi Hoosein, the top two returning scorers, sidelined with injuries.
The 6-foot-8 Allmon, the lone link to the national championship season, averaged 15.3 points and 8.7 rebounds last season. Soliday said he is expected to recover from a sprained ankle in as soon as one week, but he will miss the season opener against visiting Chapman on Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
A proven scorer and rebounder who started all 30 games last season, Allmon enters his final season as the most productive big man in the conference, Soliday said.
Hoosein, a 6-2 sharpshooter who averaged 12.4 points, 4.1 rebounds and drained a team-best 84 three-pointers while starting all 30 games last season, is recovering from a broken hand that should limit him for 10 days to two weeks, Soliday said.
Also frequenting the trainer’s room is 6-4 senior forward Aubrey Myers Jr., who will need a couple more weeks to recover from a shoulder issue that may be chronic, said Soliday, for whom 6-6 senior forward Kwinn Hanson will be unavailable for at least a month due to a torn labrum.
Brandon Hood, a 5-8 senior guard, is also rounding into shape, coming off knee surgery that led to his being redshirted last season after playing just two games. He averaged 18.8 points per game as a sophomore at West Los Angeles Community College in 2014-15.
“When he comes back and is feeling healthy, [Hood] is as talented a guard as we have,” Soliday said. “He can really score, and he is perhaps our best shooter.”
When fully healthy, Allmon and Hoosein will anchor a starting lineup that figures to include Orange Coast College transfer Jamaal Lee, a 6-3 junior forward with jaw-dropping passing skills.
“We knew he was a good passer, but we didn’t know he was this good,” Soliday said of Lee, a first-team all-conference performer who averaged 15.8 points, 11.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists in his only season at OCC, where he played center, forward and even point guard. “He has a legitimate chance to lead us in assists as a combo forward and he is teaching all our guys to play unselfishly, because he will give the ball up at any time.”
Soliday said Shacquille Dawkins, a 5-10 freshman out of Bishop Alemany High, and Billy Keller, a 6-0 junior transfer from Westmont College, are battling for the starting nod at point guard, where both will see plenty of playing time.
"[Dawkins] is the fastest thing we’ve had in our gym since Horace Wormely [the 2006 GSAC Player of the Year],” Soliday said. “He is lightning, really talented and fun to watch, with a huge upside.”
Victor Evans, who had a team-best 13 points in an exhibition loss to Concordia on Saturday, is expected to lead the way at the three-spot, where sophomore Brandon Brothers is also expected to push him for playing time.
Brothers averaged 9.8 points and 3.5 rebounds last season, when injuries to others helped him start 20 games.
Christian Ware-Berry, a 6-3 junior guard, averaged 6.2 points last season, when he played in 30 games and started seven. He is expected to be a rotation player, as is Myers, when he returns.
Soliday praised the play of Teslim Idris in the exhibition game, in which he started and contributed five rebounds. The athletic 6-6 senior transfer from Savannah State is originally from England.
“He’s an X-factor in terms of how hard he plays,” Soliday said. “He can do a little of everything and he makes a lot of effort plays for us.”
Soliday also likes the potential of 6-8 freshman Kaleb Wilborn, the son of Terence Wilborn, who starred at Mater Dei High in the early 1990s and went on to play at San Jose State and Vanguard.
The 11 players poised for their first complete season with Vanguard figure to benefit from 21 of 31 regular-season games being played in The Pit, the cozy home gym at which the spectators have to clear space for anyone inbounding the ball along the sideline.
Vanguard opened last season 7-0 and 11-2, before going 8-9 down the stretch and falling in the second round of the conference tournament.
This season, Soliday expects a wide-open race in the GSAC, from which Biola is ranked No. 4 in the NAIA preseason poll that includes No. 12 Westmont and No. 17 Hope International. In addition, GSAC members William Jessup and Arizona Christian received votes for the preseason top 25.
Vanguard opens GSAC play on Dec. 6 at home against San Diego Christian.