Since Brian Katz took over the head coaching duties at Sacramento State in 2008-09, the Hornets have increased their conference win total every season, culminating in eight league wins last year. That matched the program's highest conference win total since joining the Big Sky in 1996-97, and there is no reason to believe that mark won't rise again in 2013-14.
Not only did the team match its high water mark for Big Sky wins, the program's 14 overall victories were the most in seven years, and second most during the program's Div. I era (1991-pres.). In addition, Sacramento State went 10-4 at home, the program's most wins inside the Nest in eight years. The Hornets never lost more than two games in a row, and were at or above the .500 mark all season until the final game of the year. Add in the fact that Sacramento State's record could have been better if not for four one-point losses in conference play, and you can see why there is a high level of optimism surrounding the program.
The Hornets return eight players and a redshirt from a year ago, including arguably one of the best back court combinations in the Big Sky in junior point guard Dylan Garrity and junior shooting guard Mikh McKinney. The two are co-captains this year, and the team's success in 2013-14 could largely hinge upon the play of both Garrity and McKinney.
Garrity will enter his third season with the Hornets and has been the team's starting point guard since the moment he stepped foot on campus. McKinney transferred from Ohlone College prior to last season and burst onto the scene by averaging 12.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists. The duo combined to average 23.9 points and 7.6 assists per game while shooting .418 from the field, .392 from the 3-point line and .832 from the free throw line. Garrity, who was the Big Sky Freshman of the Year two seasons ago, was named honorable mention all-league for the second straight year.
The Hornets did lose four of their top six scorers from a season ago in forward John Dickson (1st; 12.8 ppg), center Konner Veteto (4th; 10.2 ppg), swingman Joe Eberhard (5th; 6.9 ppg) and shooting guard Jackson Carbajal (6th; 3.3 ppg). In all, Sacramento State lost five players from last year, and those five players combined to average nearly 50 percent (.498) of the team's total offensive production.
However, in addition to Garrity and McKinney, the Hornets do boast players that have experience in the team's starting lineup in sophomore guard Cody Demps, and senior forwards Joey Quigley and Jordan Salley. Guards Dreon Barlett and Kendell Groom as well as center Ryan Okwudibonye also have experience in a Sacramento State uniform. Add in 6-foot-9, 235-pound forward Alex Tiffin, who redshirted last year after transferring from UC Davis, and the Hornets have a solid core of returners.
The list of newcomers includes freshmen Nick Hornsby, Eric Stuteville and Trevis Jackson as well as transfers Zach Mills and Case Rada. Each player averaged at least 14.7 points per game last season at their respective schools. Hornsby, who is a 6-foot-7, 200-pound swingman from Irvine, comes with the most accolades. Last season as a senior at Tustin High School, Hornsby was named first team all-state, the co-3AAA Division Player of the Year, co-MVP of the Empire League and first team all-county while being ranked by ESPN as the 20th best high school recruit in the state of California. Stuteville, who is a 6-foot-11, 240-pound center with local ties, averaged 21.7 points and 12.3 rebounds for Orangevale's Casa Roble High School last season.
This year's Hornet roster is guard heavy as eight of the team's 14 players will see time at guard this year. In fact, fans shouldn't be surprised to see four-guard looks at times. Mills, Quigley, Salley, Tiffin, Stuteville and Okwudibonye will all get their playing time in the post.
Sacramento State's defense was a strength last season as the team allowed opponents just 65.7 points per game, the best mark in over 40 years (the 1970-71 squad allowed 64.7 points per game). However, it was the offense that struggled at times to produce points, and that is an area the team is looking to improve in 2013-14. After averaging 78.4 points through the first seven games of last season, the team averaged just 60.3 points during its final 22 contests.
For the second year in a row, Sacramento State will play 20 league games after North Dakota and Southern Utah joined the Big Sky last season making it an 11-team league. Also, for the second year in a row, the Big Sky's postseason tournament will include the top seven teams in the league. Sacramento State is looking for its first trip to the conference's postseason event since the 2005-06 season. Last year's Hornet squad finished in a three-way tie for sixth place in the league standings, and missed out on the Big Sky Tournament because of a tiebreaker. Weber State was selected to finish first in both the Big Sky's preseason coaches and media polls.
Sacramento State will look to make its mark with a schedule that includes 29 regular season games, including 14 at home and 15 on the road. Highlighting the schedule is the program's second-ever trip to Pauley Pavilion where the team will take on defending Pac-12 Conference regular season champions UCLA on Nov. 18. Of the team's slate of nine non-conference games, Sacramento State will play four teams from the Big West (UC Davis, UC Irvine, Cal State Fullerton and UC Riverside), one each from the Pac-12 (UCLA), Conference USA (UTEP) and Western Athletic (CSU Bakersfield) as well as games against a pair of non Div. I opponents (UC Santa Cruz, William Jessup).
• Sacramento State is stacked with eight different players that could see time at the guard position during the season. Easily the deepest position on the squad, the list is highlighted by team co-captains Dylan Garrity and Mikh McKinney, who will each see ample playing time throughout the season.
• The list of guards is comprised of three upperclassmen and five underclassmen. It includes one senior (Kendell Groom), two juniors (Garrity and McKinney), three sophomores (Dreon Barlett, Cody Demps and Case Rada) and two freshmen (Nick Hornsby and Trevis Jackson). Hornsby will also see plenty of time at the forward spot as the true freshman can play at shooting guard and both forward positions as well. He has grown two inches and tacked on 15 pounds since arriving at Sacramento State for summer workouts.
• Garrity is the returner with the most accolades. Just two years into his Sacramento State tenure after prepping at Huntington Beach's Edison High School, the 6-foot-2, 175-pound point guard was the Big Sky's Freshman of the Year two seasons ago and is a two-time honorable mention all-Big Sky selection. Already fourth in school history in career assists (336), Garrity averaged 11.6 points, 2.6 rebounds and 5.1 assists last season while shooting .443 from the field, .408 from the three-point line and .861 from the free throw line. He increased his scoring average by 3.5 points per game from his freshman season, and that mark may rise again in 2013-14 as Garrity is given plenty of green light when he feels he has a good look at the basket.
• McKinney was one of two Hornets to start all 29 games last season and averaged 12.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.2 steals in 30.5 minutes in his first year at the Div. I level. The athletic McKinney, who can create his own shot on the floor, shot .399 from the field, .372 from the three-point line and .807 from the charity stripe. He scored in double figures 19 times, led the team in scoring on seven occasions, and his 12.3 ppg against conference competition was a team high.
• Demps, who is a 6-foot-4, 200-pound guard with high basketball IQ, was one of six players to appear in all 29 games last year as a freshman. The local product from Elk Grove saw his minutes increase as the season progressed, averaging 17.2 minutes over the final 11 games of the year. Though he averaged just 3.0 points, 1.8 rebounds and 13.8 minutes last year, expect those numbers to increase as Demps figures to be a starter or one of the team's first players off the bench.
• The team's lone fourth-year senior, Groom has appeared in 48 games during his career. One of the team's more athletic players, Groom is a solid defender who has been used late in tight games because of his defense. Although he played in just nine games last year, the former three-time all-state selection in high school will likely see more minutes in 2013-14.
• Barlett is a 6-foot-3, 170-pound sharp shooter who can knock down jumpers from anywhere on the floor. Though he received light playing time last season as a true freshman, he made the most of those minutes, shooting .529 (9-17) from the field and .500 (6-12) from the three-point line. A high school teammate of Garrity at Edison High School, Barlett had a season-high eight points in four minutes against UC Merced and five points in five minutes at Arizona State.
• Rada, who is a 6-foot-3, 200-pound shooting guard from Burbank, Wash., specializes in shooting the three-pointer. Sporting the physique of a tight end, Rada led the entire Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges (33 teams) last year at Walla Walla JC in both scoring average (24.0 ppg) and three-pointers made (111). Rada, who averaged 4.0 three-pointers made per game, spent the 2011-12 season redshirting at Boise State.
• Jackson, who is an athletic 5-foot-11, 160-pound guard from Santa Monica, was the starting point guard for the 2012-13 Santa Monica High School squad which reached the Div. I state championship game at Sacramento's Sleep Train Pavilion. He was a first team all-section and all-league choice as a senior after averaging 15.2 points and 6.8 assists per game. Jackson also brings some celebrity status as he was one of the stars on an eight-week reality show called "Summer Break" which aired on social media only. The show followed nine L.A.-area teenagers in the final days before most headed off to college, and currently has over 131,000 followers on Twitter. Each of the episodes has well over 100,000 views on youtube, with some eclipsing the 400,000 view mark.
• A total of five players are listed at the forward position on the roster, comprised of two players that saw action in a Hornet uniform last season, a returning redshirt, a junior college transfer and a prep star. That list includes seniors Jordan Salley and Joey Quigley, juniors Alex Tiffin and Zach Mills, and freshman Nick Hornsby.
• Salley is listed at 6-foot-6, 230 pounds, and electrified crowds with a couple of high-rising dunks last season. The La Verne, Calif., native really made his mark during the team's final four games of the year. After averaging just 0.5 points, 0.7 rebounds and 5.6 minutes during his first 22 games, Salley averaged 9.8 points and 4.8 rebounds while shooting .708 (17-24) from the floor over the team's final four games. That included season highs in points (16) and rebounds (10) in a 53-52 home win over Idaho State.
• Quigley, who is 6-foot-8 and 210 pounds, was one of six Hornets to appear in all 29 games a season ago, which included six starts. He finished the season averaging 2.1 points, 1.9 rebounds and 0.5 blocked shots in nearly 11 minutes per game. Quigley had a season-high nine points to go along with two rebounds, a blocked shot and two steals in a win over CSU Bakersfield.
• Tiffin redshirted last season after transferring from UC Davis and will debut for the first time with the Hornets this season. The fundamentally sound Tiffin, who is 6-foot-9 and 235 pounds, will likely get plenty of playing time. He played in 59 of a possible 61 games during his two season at UC Davis (2010-12) after a stellar prep career at Thousand Oaks High School where he was the CIF Southern Section Div. II-AA Player of the Year in 2009.
• Hornsby, who will also see playing time at guard, comes to Sacramento State after an amazing prep career at Southern California's Tustin High School. As a senior, he was named team captain, first team all-state, co-3AAA Division Player of the Year, co-MVP of the Empire League, and first team all-county for a Tustin squad that reached the second round of the CIF Div. III State Championship, won the CIF Southern Section 3AAA title, and won the Empire League crown. He averaged 16.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists as a senior, was named by ESPN as the 20th best high school recruit in the state of California, and Scout.com ranked Hornsby the sixth best small forward on the West Coast.
• Mills is a 6-foot-5, 215-pound forward who played the last two years (2011-13) at Irvine Valley College, the same school that produced former Hornet standout Joe Eberhard. Mills was a first team all-Orange Empire Conference selection in 2012-13 after finishing with averages of 14.6 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 0.8 steals per game. The Yorba Linda, Calif., native shot .487 (150-308) from the field, .432 (32-74) from the three-point line and .813 (61-75) from the free throw line. He shot better than 44 percent from the field and 81 percent from the free throw line during both seasons with the Lasers.
• A total of two players are listed at the center position on the roster in senior Ryan Okwudibonye and freshman Eric Stuteville, but the aforementioned Alex Tiffin, who is listed as a forward, will also see time at center.
• Those three players combine for a grand total of one game of playing experience in a Sacramento State uniform as Okwudibonye played in the season opener last year but missed the remainder of the season with a knee injury. Tiffin redshirted last year and Stuteville was dominating at the high school level in 2012-13.
• Stuteville and his 6-foot-11, 240-pound frame bring the kind of prep center potential that Sacramento State hasn't seen in recent memory. A local product from Casa Roble High School in Orangevale, Stuteville began playing organized basketball for the first time ever as a freshman in high school and his career took off quickly from there. In fact, as a senior, he was he was named team captain, co-MVP of the Capital Valley League, first team all-league, first team all-Metro and team MVP for a Casa Roble squad that went 23-9 overall, 8-2 in league, and reached the CIF Div. III State Championships. He was the team's leading scorer, leading rebounder and leading shot blocker while finishing with averages of 21.7 points and 12.3 rebounds per game, shooting better than 60 percent from the field and 84 percent from the free throw line. Stuteville has basketball in his bloodlines as his father, Shannon, played hoops at Langston University in Oklahoma and his mother, Kristine, played at Cal.
• Okwudibonye, a 6-foot-8, 235 pound center from Huntington Beach, played six minutes in the Hornets' season opener in 2012-13 before missing the remainder of the season with a left knee injury. He had surgery on the knee last January and has been practicing at 100 percent in the preseason. Prior to Sacramento State, Okwudibonye played two seasons at New Mexico Junior College (2010-12) where he played in all 50 games during his two seasons, and was part of a 2011-12 Thunderbird team that went 23-9 overall, 10-4 in the Western Junior College Athletic Conference and made the school's first appearance at the NJCAA Region V Tournament since the 1997-98 season.