UW-San Jose State men’s hoops Q&A

WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi did a question-and-answer session with Jimmy Durkin, who covers San Jose State men’s basketball for the San Jose Mercury News, on Saturday’s game with the University of Wyoming.

The game starts at 4 p.m. MT at the Arena-Auditorium in Laramie, and will be televised on Root Sports.

Follow on Twitter: @Jimmy_Durkin

The Spartans continue to struggle with no Mountain West wins and just two victories overall, but have there been any bright spots or reasons to feel optimistic about the program in the future?

Sadly, the biggest bright spots have been the timing of their injuries to point guard Jalen

Jimmy Durkin

Jimmy Durkin

James and center Leon Bahner (a 6-foot-11 true freshman from Germany). James was injured in the eighth game and Bahner in practice after the ninth game, so both just barely fit under the guidelines to be eligible for medical redshirts. Assuming they are awarded them, that would be a small bright spot. James is obviously a key player being the point guard and Bahner, when healthy, provides size they sorely need. Bahner’s still pretty new to organized hoops, so getting a redshirt year in was always probably wise, they just didn’t have enough depth to do it.

But looking to next year, getting those guys back, along with really everybody except senior Jaleel Williams, should make them more competitive and definitely more experienced. They recruited pretty well, bringing in some more size and length and will add a former Pac-12 player when Utah transfer Princeton Onwas becomes eligible. Hopefully it’s enough to win a couple games.

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UW-San Jose State men’s basketball Q&A

WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi did a question-and-answer session with Jimmy Durkin, who covers San Jose State men’s basketball for the San Jose Mercury News, about Saturday’s Mountain West game between the University of Wyoming and San Jose State. Tip-off is at 8 p.m. MT at The Event Center in San Jose.

Follow on Twitter: @Jimmy_Durkin

What is the latest on the suspensions of the four players for San Jose State, which includes the four leading scorers on the team? What did they do and will they be back for the Wyoming game?

Jimmy Durkin

Jimmy Durkin

There hasn’t been much official word. Coach Dave Wojcik is sticking with calling the length “indefinite.” There are indications that Rashad Muhammad and Jaleel Williams could be back fairly soon (they’ve participated in practices recently), but there hasn’t been any definitive word and Wojcik plans to keep it hush until anybody actually does come back. I’ve heard Wednesday’s game (at Utah State) was likely the last for Andrew Vollert, one of the football players who joined the team after the suspensions. So maybe a couple of guys are back Saturday, but that won’t be known until near game time.

At 2-11 overall, has the season played out a lot like you thought with San Jose State to this point?

No, I wouldn’t say that. I didn’t expect a ton out of this team this year, but thought they’d begin to show some signs of improvement. The Spartans played well in their opener (it was against NAIA Bethesda), and played well for the first 30 minutes against Portland. At that point, I thought a 10 or so win season with a few Mountain West wins was possible. But things started falling apart on the court and then, of course, off the court and it’s looking like it’ll be a really long year.

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UW-San Jose State football Q&A swap

WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi did a question-and-answer swap with Jimmy Durkin, who covers San Jose State football for the San Jose Mercury News in San Jose, California.

Follow on Twitter: @Jimmy_Durkin

Look for Q&As with beat writers that cover UW football opponents every week throughout the season.

One of the most noticeable improvements for San Jose State is defensively. It entered last week’s games leading the Mountain West in passing defense and total defense. Where has the biggest improvement been and how much better, overall, is the Spartans’ defense?

The biggest improvement is coaching. Greg Robinson is a huge upgrade over the inexperienced and overmatched Kenwick Thompson, who last year chose to make San Jose State’s players adapt to his defense, rather than him adapting his scheme to the skills of the players.

Beyond that, the Spartans have what can pretty easily be described as the best secondary in the Mountain West. Cleveland Wallace III is a transfer from Washington and teams with Jimmy Pruitt at cornerback to give SJSU two players who can lock on in man coverage. True freshman Maurice McKnight is the free safety in nickel situations and is another shutdown man coverage defender and great open field tackler. The group is brought together by senior Forrest Hightower, who has turned into a great support man in the run game and is making plays in the pass game as well. With a couple good linebackers in Christian Tago and Vince Buhagiar and a potential NFL draft pick in defensive tackle Travis Raciti, it’s just an overall solid group and has been brought together by a veteran, experience defensive coordinator in Robinson — the two-time Super Bowl winner with the Denver Broncos.

 

How has the change at quarterback to Joe Gray helped or hindered the Spartans, and is he the guy for San Jose State moving forward?

It’s helped quite a bit. While the competition may not be equal, the difference in numbers are staggering. SJSU is averaging 494 yards per game in the two games with Gray as the starter and just 326.3 when Blake Jurich was in charge. Sure, Jurich had to face Auburn and Minnesota, but he also got to face FCS North Dakota.

I think the players feel more confident in Gray. He was the presumed starter all along. He looked to have won the job in spring, spent all summer as the presumed starter and then Jurich won it with a good fall. Gray’s a much more polished passer, has better pocket presence and is much calmer under pressure.

 

How would you assess this San Jose State team so far. With the West Division of the Mountain West up for grabs, are the Spartans a contender for the division title?

I can’t come up with a reason why not. They actually could end up being the most complete team in the West Division. They play defense, something the conference as a whole isn’t exactly known for. And they’ve got an improving offense settling in under a quarterback who at one point was bound for the Pac-12 (Gray committed to Washington while in high school). Add in the factor that, for whatever reason, nobody is really looking at them as a contender outside of San Jose, and I think they could be a dangerous sleeper candidate to win the West. As we all know, it’s a pretty mediocre conference this year and yet somebody has to win it. The loss to Nevada two weeks ago doesn’t help. Had they held on to their 10-7 fourth-quarter lead and won that game, I think we’d definitely be calling them the favorite right now.

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UW-San Jose St. men’s hoops Q&A

WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi did a question-and-answer session with Jimmy Durkin, who covers San Jose State men’s basketball for the San Jose Mercury News about Saturday’s 3 p.m. game with the University of Wyoming at The Events Center in San Jose, Calif.

Follow on Twitter: @Jimmy_Durkin

As the only winless team in conference play and on a 12-game losing streak, how have the Spartans held up mentally and even physically during this time?

It’s starting to weigh on them, no doubt. Coach Dave Wojcik even said after the close loss to Air Force that the team is struggling mentally. The combination of their youth and the losses is adding up. The only hope now is that they are learning from the experience.

 

The Spartans have had some close games at home in MW play with New Mexico, Colorado State and Air Force. What do they do well when games like that are close?

They shoot. It’s really as simple as that. They don’t have much of an inside presence, other than Chris Cunningham. So any offense usually comes from outside shooting. The games in which they are hot, they have a chance.

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UW-San Jose State Q&A

WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi did a question-and-answer session with Jimmy Durkin, who covers San Jose State football for the San Jose Mercury-News about Saturday’s game with the University of Wyoming in Laramie.

Follow on Twitter: @Jimmy_Durkin

Look for Q&As with beat writers that cover UW football opponents every week throughout the season.

San Jose State got off to a slow start this season, but injuries played a factor. Can you describe how decimated the team was due to injuries and how is the health of the team heading into the Wyoming game?

Injuries were a fairly large factor. Having starting running back Tyler Ervin out, and still out, was big and the loss of wide receiver Noel Grigsby was huge. It really took them three games to find someone who could somewhat fill Grigsby’s playmaker role, which Tyler Winston has done over the past couple of games. It took the same time to find a crew of running backs to minimize the loss of Ervin, too. The defense lost any semblance of depth with guys like linebacker Vince Buhagiar out and several other guys missing a game or two.

The Wyoming game should represent the healthiest the team has been since the season-opener. Wide receiver Jabari Carr should be back. There’s a chance Ervin is back, but that’s sounding less likely. But several guys that were slightly nicked up or on the verge of returning coming into the Colorado State game should be healthy as the team comes off the bye.

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