By: Gabe Taylor '12
With the University's first-ever CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament championship title in the back of their minds, the Santa Clara Broncos return to the basketball court Nov. 4 to open the 2011-2012 season.
Behind junior Kevin Foster's explosive season, the Broncos squandered Iona's CIT Championship bid with a 76-67 win to claim the title on March 29, 2011.
In Kerry Keating's fourth year as head coach, Santa Clara posted a record of 24-14 overall, and 8-6 in the West Coast Conference, landing them at fourth place in the WCC standings.
After red-shirting his junior year due to a broken foot in Dec., 2010, Foster took little time to regain his composure from beyond the arc last season. Ranked No. 1 nationally in threes made with 140 during the 2010-'11 season, Foster topped BYU marksman Jimmer Fredette's total of 124. Facing off against Gonzaga at home, Foster struck for a career 36-points to help Santa Clara defeat the Bulldogs. His average of 20.2 ppg proved to be the best of any WCC player last season.
"He's about as good a shooter, and as a good a scorer as there is," said Keating, commenting on how Foster's name will now protrude from every scouting report.
Foster will be alongside Evan Roquemore, who quickly transitioned into the starting point guard role as a freshman, starting 29 of the 38 games. Despite assuming the position as a facilitator – averaging nearly four assists per game – Roquemore understood when the team needed him to transform into an offensive threat. While battling USF in the CIT quarterfinals, Roquemore unloaded for a career-high 30 points, shattering his season average of 11.7 ppg.
Santa Clara's 201-2012 schedule is no walk in the park, with the 76 Classic consisting of New Mexico, Villanova, Oklahoma and other well-established programs.
"That's a reason a lot of us have come here; we want to play the best and we want to develop this program," said sophomore John McArthur.
To add to the competitive lineup, an offseason move shifted Fredette's alma mater Brigham Young University from the Mountain West Conference to the WCC.
"Our league is as good as it's ever been, even before BYU came in," said Keating, adding later that Santa Clara is "always trying to schedule the best we can," but that it's "not the easiest thing to do."
As Keating looks at it, it's a "two-way street."
With Santa Clara's strength of schedule ascending, the Broncos have the potential to catch even more eyes on the national sphere.
"That has given us more recognition nationally," said Roquemore. "It is letting us play against some bigger talent, and it lets us hopefully show that we can hang with those kinds of teams, and that we deserve the respect we've been getting."
Santa Clara will be without star forward Marc Trasolini for the entirety of the season. Trasolini, who averaged 12.8 points alongside 6.1 rebounds in Santa Clara's CIT championship campaign, suffered a torn ACL during the Broncos' opening game of their Vancouver BC exhibition tour.
"We're going to have to have at least one or two of the underclassmen be pretty consistent in our top rotation," said Keating.
Keating embraces the youth of the team, but recognizes that managing a team with only one senior on the roster is no easy task.
"They [Foster and Roquemore] have to trust some of these younger guys," said Keating.
Three-point specialist Julian Clarke is among the youthful crowd.
"Being a red-shirt freshman, I have to take on more of a role than I would as a usual freshman, because I got a jumpstart," said guard Julian Clarke. "I got a year of experience without actually playing much. I have to come in and really be solid."
Santa Clara is returning three of its five starters, after graduating seniors Michael Santos, Ben Dowdell and Troy Payne. But the loss to Santos, Dowdell and defensive-minded Payne (2011 WCC Defender of the Year) – in addition to Trasolini – is a critical blow to the team on the defensive end.
"One of our staples last year – why we were so successful – was our defensive effort," acknowledged McArthur.
According to Keating, the spots of the graduated seniors and the injured Trasolini remain "up for grabs."
Santa Clara opens up season play on Nov. 4, when it will host Ryerson at 7 pm in the Leavey Center.
The Red and White Scrimmage will provide the public with a free sneak peak of this year's team on Fri., Oct. 21 at 7 pm in the Leavey Center.