Coming off one of their best seasons in recent memory, one that saw the Oaks win their third California Pacific Conference title and first in nearly a decade, Menlo is ready to hit the court for another thrilling men's basketball campaign. There is a different look and feel for this year's squad with big holes to fill in terms of minutes and more importantly production.
The Oaks said goodbye to six influential seniors who played a monumental part in Menlo's championship run, including Cal Pac Player of the Year and second leading scorer in the program's history, Julian Harris, as well as Conference Defender of the Year and three-year team captain Nick McCullar.
Make no mistake about it, despite the void left by the six seniors, this is not a rebuilding season. The Oaks and second year Head Coach Jon Surface are confident that the team still has the chips in place to make a run at a second straight conference crown, and it starts with a solid core of returners.
For starters, Menlo returns a dominant post player in Tim Tatum who earned a 1stTeam All-Cal Pac honor in his own right thanks to 9.8 points per game and a team leading 6.5 boards a contest in his junior campaign. "Tim is a seasoned veteran and he has no problem carrying the heavy load as far as production and defensive challenges are concerned," remarked last year's Cal Pac Coach of the Year Jon Surface.
Along with Tatum, the Oaks bring back sophomore point guard Carlos Monroy as well as four-year player Andrew Young. Monroy earned valuable experience as a starter in his freshman campaign, while Young's imposing 6'6", 215 lb. frame will make him a force to be reckoned with from the forward position. "Our core of returners (Tatum, Monroy, Young) are the foundation of the program," commented Surface. "They are a huge part of this year's team and have already stepped into stronger leadership roles."
Experience as a whole is another crucial factor in Menlo's run at conference supremacy, as this year's roster has just one true freshman. The Oaks brought in several key transfers who are not only older, but also contain the necessary maturity and leadership qualities to give them a chance for an immediate impact this season. Almost everyone on this team has collegiate experience, they are court savvy, and understand the nature of basketball at this level.
Two more key additions to the 2011-12 squad are Menlo's newest assistant coaches Brandon Walker and Nick McCullar. Walker brings in a whole host of collegiate playing experience to the table, after dominating at NCAA Division II University of Alaska Anchorage during his three-year tenure. He finished eighth all time on the UAA scoring list and was the only non-four year player in the school's history to accumulate over 1,200 points and 450 rebounds. Walker also played a little bit of professional ball in the German Pro B League before he was forced into an early retirement due to a spinal injury. Surface is confident that because of his college and professional experience, Walker can advance the skill level of a number of this year's players.
As far as McCullar is concerned, he knows the Menlo system as good as any after playing with the Oaks for the last four seasons, serving as the team captain for the last three. This type of program familiarity makes Coach Surface delighted to have McCullar aboard in his first season as a Menlo assistant. "We are fortunate to have Nick on the staff. He knows what Menlo basketball is all about and it's been a smooth transition from player to coach."
With the pieces in place for a potential repeat run, the Oaks hit the Haynes-Prim hardwood for their season opener this Thursday (Nov. 3) with a matchup against the Eagles of Biola University. Tipoff is slated for 7:30pm.
Top 5 Things to Watch For:
1. Balanced production on offense/strong on Defense- Offensively, Menlo will bank on productivity from a number of different sources. The dynamic duo of Julian Harris and Nick McCullar are no longer in the fold, so look for a multitude of Oaks to carry the load. Defensively, Head Coach Jon Surface is referring to it as the team's "calling card" and with the addition of McCullar, last year's Conference Defender of the Year, now as an assistant coach, Menlo has the chance to do some pretty special things this season.
2. Intriguing out of conference slate- The Oaks will but heads with 4 NCAA Division I schools, three NCAA Division II schools, and a myriad of NAIA Top 25 teams before Cal Pac gets going. Challenging…yes, but beneficial…absolutely.
3. California Pacific Conference outlook- Holy Names enters the conference year as the pre-season #1. When you take into account the storied rivalry between the Hawks and Oaks, coupled with the fact that HNU took out Menlo in the playoffs last year, January 26thand February 18thcannot come soon enough.
4. Who can fill the gap left by last year's seniors?- While it might sound redundant, it's a huge story line as we enter the 2011-12 campaign. Menlo will look at their solid core of returners, mainly Tim Tatum, Carlos Monroy, and Andrew Young, along with an exciting group of newcomers to fill the void left by the departure of last year's six seniors.
5. Target on their back-Winning the regular season conference title will turn you from the hunter to the hunted. The Oaks won't be sneaking up on anyone this year, but as far as Coach Surface is concerned, "It's more exciting than it is challenging."