Interview of Coach KD Durst (KD) by Ray Richardson (RR) on KDEN radio:
RR: Hey Coach, your season is half over and while your team didn’t do badly during pre-conference play, they are having a tough time against Pac-12 competition. I know you were used to winning at Youngstown State. What’s it like being on the tail end of the score this season?
KD: Everyone likes to win and I’m not exception to that. But at Youngstown State it took us a couple years before we began winning consistently. I knew coming in here that there would be a huge rebuilding effort. Making things even more difficult was that we only had 7 scholarship players and 3 walk-ons this season and now one of those scholarship players has been dropped from our roster due to grades. But looking ahead to next season I’m very optimistic. We did extremely well with recruiting 3 strong high school seniors and also have brought in 5 valuable transfer players. I believe all 8 of those players could very well contend for starting roles next season. In addition, we have 6 of this year’s team coming back next season and with the experience they’re gaining this year, they all should be stronger players next season.
RR: Can you tell us about each of this season’s players?
KD: I’d be happy to. All of them are fine young men and go all-out to do the best they can.
Let’s start with our guards:
Chris Smith was a starter last year as a freshman and while he had a good year as a freshman, he’s doing even better as a sophomore. “Smitty” isn’t afraid to put the ball up and hits a good percentage of his shots, but he’s also been dishing out a lot more assists and has become a much stronger defender this season. He likes to shoot from mid-range and out beyond the arc. I’d like to see him driving more and drawing more fouls since he is knocking down 82% of his free throws.
Stacey “Ranger” Walker, played a year at Loyola Marymount and 2 years for Colorado, but never started until this season. As his senior season progresses, he’s getting more into the flow and while he’s primarily a SG, he’s done well also filling in at the point this season. He’s been dishing out his share of assists this year. He’s hitting a high percentage of his shots, but needs to gain more confidence and be more aggressive at putting the ball up. He’s almost exclusively a mid-range shooter. He doesn’t drive too much and only rarely will put up a shot from beyond the arc. Thus far he’s not been willing to work on those aspects of his game. He has quick hands so gets a good amount of steals.
J.B. Parker is a senior walk-on who hardly ever played in his 2 other years with the team. He’s done better at the 2 rather than at the point so far. He’s an aggressive shooter and is knocking down a high percentage of his shots, including those from 3-point distance. For some reason, his free throw shooting is not as strong. He’s not a strong defender or rebounder and like my other guards, he doesn’t like to drive much. But he’s one of the harder workers on our team and is well liked by everyone.
One our ineligible transfer players is Matt Conley who played for Oklahoma in his freshman year. Although he didn’t get much playing time for the Sooners, I think he’s going to get a lot of playing time for us next season primarily at PG. He’s got a very nice outside shot and his talents are strong across the board.
Another transfer player who has to sit out this season is Steve Jackson who the guys call “General” and “Stonefall”. He was a starter at SG in every game last season as a freshman for Prairie View, where he averaged 16.4 ppg. Although he wasn’t a highly ranked recruit, he played above expectations and was the SWAC Freshman of the Year. He’s another player who has solid skills in most all areas other than inside shooting.
A third transfer is Camah Griffin. He came to us from Loyola Marymount where he was a starter at SG his entire freshman season. He averaged 13.3 ppg and was the WCC Freshman of the Year. While he primarily was a mid-range and outside shooter, I’ve been encouraging him to drive more and he’s been working on it.
Looking at our forwards, we have:
George “Merchant” Seamon is our starting SF. He was not used extensively during his first three seasons, but has been getting stronger and stronger this season. He’s now competing with Chris Smith as the team’s top scorer. He’s adept at working at inside, outside and midrange. He’s also one or strongest players defensively. Even though he’s at the 3 most of the time, I’ve also been able to have him fill in at the 2 when needed.
We were really lucky to latch onto Primoz Pohek from Slovenia right after I arrived here at the end of last season. He was highly ranked as a PF. At the beginning of this season, we played him at the 4 but then he showed an ability to proficiently back up Seamon at SF. He was really doing well there and hitting a high percentage of his shots. He was doing so well coming off the bench that the guys were calling him “Primetime”. Unfortunately, he ran into some scholastic problems at the end of the term and is now on academic probation. He’s a good leaper and I think he will be a very strong rebounder for us in upcoming seasons so we’ll see if he works out better at PF or SF.
Charles Maor is a transfer from the University of Washington. In his freshman year last season for the Huskies he got a lot of playing time coming in off the bench and scored and rebounded well at SF. He’s a strong defender with good shot blocking and stealing skills. I expect he will step in to take over for Seamon as our starter at SF next season when he regains his eligibility.
Vefa “Vee” Kurtbek is a sophomore from Turkey. He got very little playing time here last season, but has been our starting PF in every game this season. He’s been doing a solid job. He’s hitting a high percentage of his shots so I’d like to see him put the ball up more often. I think he’s got a lot of upside potential in his upcoming two seasons for us.
Jacob Anderson started a few games as a freshman here last season. He’s been coming in off the bench at the PF position for us this year. He’s scoring a little better this season and had one really strong game for us. He still has some maturing to do as he develops his skills.
Mat “Biggame” Hunter played for Oakland as a freshman. He got very little playing time there and transferred to us and regained his eligibility this season. He was coming in off the bench at PF but now that Primoz Pohek is unavailable to sub at SF, Hunter has done that the past few games. He had one really strong game at SF for us, but has yet been able to show consistency. Offensively he works the entire court, and will further development could be a nice asset for us.
Our final transfer player this year is Ryan Erickson who is from Canada. He was a starter in most games for Colgate as a freshman and sophomore but ran into grade problems midway through his sophomore year. He got his grades back up so far since coming here. It’s important he keep them up since I think he could be a key interior asset for us when he regains his eligibility next season. He was a good scorer and rebounder for Colgate who hit a very high percentage of his shots. He has some excellent skills, but needs encouragement to work hard.
At center we have two walk-ons:
Ryan Blackshear is 7’1” and can fill up the lane with his 295 pounds. He’s a senior but this is the first year he’s been on our team. He began the year as the backup center but then took over as the starter after some decent scoring games early in the season. Even though he’s a big guy, his rebounding skills are weak since he has yet to develop the ability to get into position and use his bulk to maintain it. He does draw a lot of fouls though, but only hits 50% of his free throws.
6’10” R.J. Reis splits time with Blackshear. As a freshman here, he played very little. I’d like to see him shoot more but is a better rebounder than Blackshear. He’s a hard worker, though, so could develop into a good role player for us the next couple years.
RR: So what’s your prognosis for the team the rest of this season?
KD: Even though we may not win that many games, you can rely on these guys to keep playing their hardest. They’re a very cohesive group of players. As I mentioned, since we have so few eligible players, they’re all getting a lot of playing time which will help them develop their skills for upcoming seasons here.
RR: Finally Coach, are you surprised your old team, Youngstown State, has a 7-8 (3-3) record this season?
KD: Ray, I really haven’t had the time to keep up on what’s going on there. I’m sad that they are struggling and hope that they come on strong the rest of this season. They have a great nucleus so could end up surprising some people.