Versatility and coachability — two traits vital to the success of the Colorado Mesa men's basketball team this season.
With five new transfers expected to play big roles for the Mavericks, it was imperative to find the right fit so Mike DeGeorge can set the foundation for his program, which he wants to become a roster built from the high school ranks, with limited transfers.
In the past two weeks, the Mavericks have made strides, and they'll see how it's all come together this weekend in the D2 Conference Challenge, playing No. 20 St. Edward's University and Dallas Baptist at Colorado Christian in Lakewood.
"We do have a lot of new guys and it's coming fast for us," DeGeorge said. "We're still improving in a lot of concepts and like last year, starting off with St. Ed's is a big challenge for us, the pace of their offense and where we are in our defensive growth is going to create a real challenge for us.
"We do have good players and hopefully we can take another step this week and improve on last week's scrimmage. It was not up to where we'd like it to be and based on that we're not where we need to be, but we can get there quickly, and the guys are committed to doing it."
Through practice and a couple of scrimmages against junior college teams, the coaches have figured out a hierarchy for the majority of playing time, figuring to go 8-10 players deep.
Three seniors and six juniors will make up much of the rotation, with 6-foot-7 freshman forward Ethan Menzies expected to log minutes as a backup post player behind Clay Verk, a big body at 6-8, 260 pounds.
"Clay Verk is doing a great job. He's a transfer post player, very physical," DeGeorge said of the junior transfer from Stetson. "Defensively he's really picked up on our concepts quickly. Offensively he's still finding his way, his role, but that's coming along."
Georgie Dancer, a 6-3 junior, and Tommy Nuno, the Mavs' returning senior guard, will be the primary ball handlers, and David Rico and Jared Small are also skilled backcourt players. All four played at Fresno City College, as did senior guard Jess Spivey. Small is the younger brother of Sydney Small, who played on the 2015-16 and 2016-17 CMU women's basketball teams.
"We just have a lot more depth than we had," DeGeorge said. "We have to find the right combinations. We have the ability to go big and the ability to go small and each game will bring different challenges. It'll be fun for the coaches to put those combinations together to give us a chance to really put the other team in a difficult position to match up with us."
Rico and Small should provide perimeter scoring, Spivey has worked to become a better defensive player, and Nuno and Skinner have improved their mid-range games to complement their ability to get to the rim.
Junior guard Kolton Peterson, who missed much of last season with injuries, is healthy again, giving the Mavericks yet another perimeter threat.
"Defensively I felt I was more of a liability last year," Spivey said. "I could only play certain matchups, which hurt my minutes. I focused really hard this summer on my defense as well as my offensive game to do something other than just shoot the ball."
Nuno likes the versatility this group brings, which will also expand his offensive role.
"My main focus (in the offseason) was shooting, free throws and 3s being my main focus, trying to improve those percentages and letting nothing else fall, field goal percentage and turnovers, keep all those up," said Nuno, voted a team captain along with Spivey. "I definitely have changed my mentality a little bit to score a little more, but nothing drastic."
The success Nuno and Spivey had coming out of Fresno gave DeGeorge the confidence to go back for more, and he talked with Verk's coaches from high school (ThunderRidge) and Stetson to see how he would fit in.
"You take a little bit of a chance with transfers sometimes, and that's part of the reason we invested heavily in our time and resources to get that group (from Fresno) here," DeGeorge said. "We did get a chance to know Clay's high school coach and I know one of the guys who coached him in college, so we had a sense of what kind of person he was and that he would be coachable as well.
"We do try to do research on that and I will say sometimes it's hit and miss, but with this group we seem to have hit a home run with that part of it."