Talent-rich Colorado State men’s basketball must build chemistry

Emmett McCarthy

CSU forward JJ Avila faces up during Monday's exhibition victory over Fort Lewis College.
CSU forward JJ Avila (31), faces up during Monday’s exhibition victory over Fort Lewis College.

The talent is all there for the CSU men’s basketball team. Now the challenge is putting it all together.

The Rams return their two top scorers and have added a bunch of individual talents that look great on paper, but the question facing this team is whether or not they can gel together.

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CSU looked to be on the right track in their exhibition game against Fort Lewis. Beating a Division II opponent is nothing to get excited about, but the chemistry the Rams played with certainly is.

“This summer we worked hard together, and we’ve been practicing hard,” senior forward JJ Avila said. “Our cohesiveness on defense  talking and rotating — is really helping us. On offense, we are just communicating better, too.”

There was more nervous energy and sloppy passes than head coach Larry Eustachy would have liked, but he hopes that can be fixed with time. They knew where their teammates were on the floor without having to look for the most part.

Last year it was a struggle for CSU to find productive minutes from the bench. This year the struggle should come in divvying up those minutes since so there are so many players on the roster ready to contribute.

“I asked our staff today who would they start, and I had three different starting lineups,” Eustachy said. “So that’s a good problem to have.”

It will be interesting to see what lineups Eustachy throws out early in the season as he figures out what works and what does not. Conference play is what really matters for this team and the coach has said he is not afraid to test a variety of lineup options before they get into the thick of their schedule.

“You can’t be afraid to lose early,” Eustachy said. “It won’t cost us because of who we’re playing, and our schedule is ranked, I think, the toughest in the league. So we can’t play out of fear or coach out of fear.”

One of the great experiments this year will be seeing senior Daniel Bejarano running the point from time to time. The all-conference guard averaged 14.1 shots per game last year but he knows that will be dialed back now that the team has more scoring threats, and he is embracing the challenge of taking on the occasional distributor role.

“I would rather have 10 assists than 30 points,” Bejarano said. “I’ve been saying that since day one, so that’s what I’m looking forward to: just trying to get my guys open and make them better.”

Of course, it helps having teammates he can trust to make shots. Newcomers such as Gian Clavell and John Gillon showed they are capable, and those two alone might be able to provide more bench depth at the guard position than the Rams had all of last year.

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Eustachy has touted this team as a special group for a reason. He even went as far as to call it the deepest team he has ever coached. In their debut, they showed a glimpse of why.

Collegian Sports Reporter Emmett McCarthy can be reached by email at sports@collegian.com and on Twitter @emccarthy22.