Still intact despite vast changes, veteran core poised to lead CSU hoops

Eddie Herz

New coaching staff, cutting-edge play-calling and awe-inspiring recent player additions exemplify the headlines surrounding Colorado State’s men’s basketball team a few games into the 2018-2019 season.

The three ideas resulted in immediate benefits for the Rams and will continue to aid the team in positively responding from last year’s lost season.

Ad

But the few remaining pieces from Larry Eustachy’s time as coach cannot be forgotten.

CSU evidently features an updated appearance, but the core of Eustachy’s team is still the core of new head coach Niko Medved’s group with redshirt senior guard J.D. Paige, redshirt junior guard Anthony Masinton-Bonner, and redshirt junior forward Nico Carvacho.

The three players are the center of Colorado State basketball. The 2018-2019 season marks the fourth season in which the Rams’ core have been in the program together.

Paige, Masinton-Bonner and Carvacho have worked to improve with each other day-by-day from their late teens to early 20s. Though CSU’s success this season doesn’t solely rely on veteran performance, the Rams cannot succeed without it.

Another year with the core intact results in more chemistry between the trio.

“Hanging out off the court, just being around each other for four years now,” Masinton-Bonner said. “We’ve been through everything together — Nico and I redshirting and then J.D. seeing us every step of the way … We are just continuing to grow, know each other’s game, and I think that will show up a lot.”

The core is not easy to come by. Programs frequently lose a significant portion of their maturity when a season concludes. It is a rare feat for a program to maintain control of nearly all its seasoned players at year end.

Teams are often forced into adjusting during the early stages of a season, since there are many new roles to be filled. CSU faces a similar issue, but it’s worth noting the chemistry the Rams’ leaders already have gives them an advantage over many teams.

Masinton-Bonner said the chemistry “will show up a lot” as the season plays out. CSU can use its rapport to its advantage early on, when most teams are still figuring their rhythm out.

“We know how to play with each other and we know what it takes to win,” Carvacho said. “We’ve played three years in the Mountain West. We know what is going to get called, what isn’t going to get called. We know who is going to be tough and how they are going to play.”

Ad

The trio have naturally worked on and improved their chemistry with each other, striving to become better leaders has been on the agenda as well.

Paige, Carvacho, and Masinton-Bonner have been heavily involved on the court for quite some time.

Paige has averaged at least 30 minutes per game in each of CSU’s last three seasons. Carvacho has played 20-plus minutes since his redshirt freshman 2016-2017 season. Similarly, Bonner has played nearly 30 minutes per game since the start of last season.

But it wasn’t until last season, after former Rams Gian Clavell and Emmanuel Omogbo graduated, that leadership from all three was required.

With a year of true leadership under the core’s belt, the obligation to be the best leaders possible is greater than ever: Paige, Carvacho, and Bonner are the pulse of CSU basketball. When they go, the team goes.

“Those guys have made real strides and those guys have been through it,” Medved said. “They have some experience and success here at this level. They’ve got to be the ones everyday to help us and continue to grow. I’ve been happy with those guys.”

In addition to stepping up on the court in crucial circumstances, CSU’s core is tasked with guiding and developing young players. Besides the three, no Ram is closed to experienced in this program, though junior guards Lorenzo Jenkins and Kris Martin somewhat provide a counter argument.

But Jenkins played only 13.6 minutes per game in his first season as a Ram last year. Martin was a major contributor in both the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 seasons under the Oral Roberts program, but Martin is currently ineligible to compete.

Paige, Carvacho and Masinton-Bonner know what it takes to win more than anybody in a CSU uniform. More importantly, they know what it takes to win at Colorado State, so it is their job to show other players how to do so.

“We just have to be vocal,” Masinton-Bonner said. “Good leaders set the example for some of the guys who haven’t been through it, especially since we’ll have some young guys playing, like Adam (Thistlewood) and Kendle (Moore). We just have to set the stage for them and bring them along with us and use that experience to benefit us.”

The season is young, but the Rams’ core has already significantly helped CSU’s younger players. One can only imagine how this will improve throughout the season.

True freshman guard Kendle Moore contributed a masterful collegiate debut in CSU’s season-opening game against Colorado Christian University. The freshman went 9-11 from the floor and scored 26 points.

Though Moore himself deserves the most credit for the performance, the guard attributed his veteran teammates equally for the success by teaching him how to handle the nerve-wracking scenario. Moore said Paige, Carvacho and Masinton-Bonner “took (him) under their wing right when (he) got here”.

CSU’s core has succeeded at being effective leaders. 

Carvacho exemplified the ideal level of physicality for a forward against CCU. Carvacho notched a 14-point, 15-rebound double-double. In doing so, he battled on the glass after every shot and often ended up on the hardwood.

Preferably for the Rams, this style of play will rub off on other players, like freshman forward Adam Thistlewood.

“You see somebody like that who plays as hard as he has, who is hitting the floor and playing all of those minutes and playing with that kind of energy,” Medved said. “You hope it permeates down your roster.”

CSU’s core has come together now more than ever. Paige, Carvacho and Masinton-Bonner will be relied on when the going gets tough. Their chemistry has proven to be too thick to deteriorate in high-stress situations.

Leadership from the Rams’ veterans in necessary circumstances is something the three players will be, and want to be, relied on for.

Eddie Herz can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @Eddie_Herz.