An experienced, talented and hungry roster from top to bottom suggests the 2016-17 men’s basketball season will be the year Linfield climbs back to prominence in the Northwest Conference. Eleven Wildcats return, including the team’s leading scorer, leading rebounder, plus two steady point guards.
Coach Shanan Rosenberg is back for his fourth year with the program, joined by assistant coaches Mickey Polis and Ryan Cali. The coaching staff believes Linfield is within reach of a winning season and a conference playoff berth, objectives that were last achieved in the 2007-08 season when Larry Doty’s club went 14-11.
“We should have a winning season,” said Rosenberg. “We ought to be able to make the playoffs, that’s definitely a goal of ours.”
For the first time in quite some time, experience is squarely on the Wildcats’ side. The 11 veterans from a season ago join two gifted transfers and a pair of talented freshmen.
Kyle Maloof, who averaged over 12 points a season ago, returns for his senior season. “Kyle is playing incredible right now and scoring the ball well. He’s a natural and gifted scorer,” said Rosenberg.
Point guards Eric Daul and Austin Daniels also appear to be at the top of their games. “Our guards are playing exceptional basketball. Both are much improved from last year and demonstrating great leadership with the group. They have earned the trust and respect of their teammates,” Rosenberg said.
Winning the NWC requires athletic all-around players and Rosenberg found two gems in transfers Liam O’Reilly (Fresno City C.C) and Tyler Watts (South Puget Sound C.C.). O’Reilly, a sophomore guard from San Bruno, California, checks in at 6-4 and 195 pounds. Watts, a true junior from Glendale, Arizona, is a sleek 6-5 and 205 pounds.
After successful debut seasons, shooting guards Vince Romeo and Riley Bruil should see their fair share of minutes in the 15-man rotation. Both are crafty with the basketball and creatively find ways to score both from beyond the arc and at the free throw line.
Linfield’s four veteran big men – Mason Rodby, Matt Woods, Austin Murray and Jordan Clark – welcome touted freshman Austin Hilton to the front court. Rodby and Murray both missed large chunks of last season with injuries. Woods sat out the entire 2015-16 campaign with an injury after starting 15 games as a freshman. Clark is prepared for a breakout season and Hilton is loaded with promise.
“I think we have some of the best big guys in the league, I really do. Matt is healthy, Austin (Murray) has lost 15 pounds from last year and is stronger than ever. Jordan is playing as well as he has ever played,” said Rosenberg. “Austin Hilton is agile and has soft hands and is going to be dynamite in this league before all is said and done.”
Adding further intrigue to the roster are sophomore Negasi Hart and freshman Jason Augliera. A 6-2 freshman from Discovery Bay, California, Augliera is an “outstanding shooter who can shoot the lights out” according to Rosenberg. Returner Parker Collins will see additional minutes at the forward position.
Rosenberg is eager to see what his group is capable of in the rugged NWC. “I’m filled with joy coming to practice every day. I really love this group. The guys are dedicated and hungry. The ones who have been around the last couple of years and suffered through the things we’ve faced are really determined. The additions to the group, combined with their leval of maturity, foreshadows of good things to come.”
The season begins with exhibition games against Division I programs Portland State (Nov. 4) and Eastern Washington (Nov. 11) before heading to Santa Cruz, California, to compete in the Mission Inn Classic. Northwest Conference play starts Dec. 2 at Puget Sound.