PASADENA (Nov. 9, 2018) – The Caltech men's basketball team has added quality and quantity of athletes to an already talented core, and how well players of the Beavers' past, present and future mesh together will determine how far the team can go this season. Head Coach Dr. Oliver Eslinger, set to begin his second decade in Pasadena believes this is the most talented group yet.
"It's a hard working bunch," Eslinger said. "They're close-knit and really committed to development and their commitment to one another. Through the first couple weeks of practice, that's the mantra and the overriding theme."
The Beavers will be captained by junior point guard Alec Andrews (Folsom, Calif. / Folsom), a proven leader on and off the court, and sophomore forward Spencer Schneider (Houston, Texas / Clearbrook), a former SCIAC Athlete of the Week. Both players finished the 2017-18 season as two of three members of the team to average at least 10 points per game and will be expected to be immediate contributors in the front and back court while the talented freshman corps adjusts to the rigors of the Division III basketball schedule. Andrews will look to facilitate the offense once again after leading his team in assists (104) as a sophomore while averaging 3.4 per game to finish second among SCIAC players.
Andrews and Schneider will look to fill the leadership void left by David Kawashima '18, Caltech's lone graduating player from a year ago. Andrews and Schneider will carry with them the lessons learned from playing with Kawashima, Caltech's winningest SCIAC player of all time.
"I don't know of anyone who didn't respect D.K. to the fullest," Eslinger said. "We talk about leaving legacy and I thought he definitely left his legacy with us. He's not here in body, but in spirit for sure because we can reference him, whether it's rebounding, working really hard or being both a verbal and non-verbal leader."
Sophomore Marcus Gee (Santa Monica, Calif. / Santa Monica) averaged 13.5 points per game as a freshman and immediately left his mark as one of the top long-distance shooters to come through Caltech. Gee made 64 three's as a freshman, good enough for the single-season record while also putting him on pace to break the career record by nearly 50 percent. Classmate Gokul Srinivasaragavan (San Ramon, Calif. / Dougherty Valley) did not have Gee's volume, but shot .375 from beyond the arc, positioning him seventh on the single-season list. With more minutes available following Kawashima's departure, both players will pose problems for struggling defensive teams on the perimeter. Junior Ross Carter (Sudbury, Mass. / The Rivers School) also returns for the Beavers and will be relied upon to eat up front court minutes while providing a physical presence in the paint along with an improved shot.
All three players could be in for an uptick in minutes, which will require more defensive attentiveness in order to keep the baskets falling on the offensive end.
"We're hoping to continue to pour in points," Eslinger said. "We also need to become more of a defensive team and that's where the focus lies. With a really strong foundation defensively, we believe that mentality will allow us to be even more productive on the offensive end."
Caltech's freshman class combines size with athleticism, talent and basketball IQ. Noah Barnes (Springfield, Va. / Jefferson) comes to Caltech from Jefferson High School in Virginia, where he averaged 16 points per game over his senior year and in one game topped out at 40 points, 10 rebounds and six three-pointers. Washington-native Stephen Hei (Newcastle, Wash. / Liberty) has shown an ability to match Barnes' athleticism and score in bunches while 6-foot-6 Riley O'Neil (Santa Rosa, Calif. / Montgomery) will provide much of what Schneider provided to the Beavers during his freshman campaign as a longer player who can find the open man and drain the open three. The Beavers are also gaining graduate student Neehar Kondapaneni, a former track & field competitor at Monta Vista High School.
"The freshmen are all talented players and they know how to play the game," Eslinger said. "They didn't look like freshmen in our exhibition and they all bring the right harmony to match the foundation our upperclassmen have made. Even though we've only had a couple weeks they have made us better and we expect all three to be immediate contributors."
This year, the Beavers will be rejoined by two players from the 2016-17 team. Junior Aaron Ayres (Tucson, Ariz. / Catalina Foothills) is coming off a lost season due to medical hardship, and is as motivated as ever to contribute in all five statistical categories after working in as a valuable bench piece in his rookie season. Lone senior Brent Cahill (Laguna Beach, Calif. / St. Margaret's) is also expected to return to the Beavers down the line after a semester abroad. Prior to last season, Cahill gained a reputation during his sophomore season as one of the team's most dangerous scorers and his ability to work from the perimeter could provide Caltech with another scoring boost from the outside.
"Aaron worked really hard to make a full recovery," Eslinger said. "He's another really hard worker who wants to help the team and has already helped in a lot of ways in how he attacks each day. He is a great teammate and has also improved on both ends of the floor. He meets all the criteria we look for in foundational basketball players. With Brent, we'll see how he adjusts after the year off. He is a talented athlete so it will be interesting to see how he assimilates after being down under."
Eslinger will be joined on the bench by a re-tooled coaching staff consisting of fellow Clark University graduate and experienced assistant Peter Mugar, along with James Covell who is coming off a two-year sting at Cal Miramar. Both coaches will bring insight, perspective and positivity to the bench, adding to an ideal environment for student-athlete growth on and off the basketball court.
With no particular wins goal in mind, Eslinger and the Beavers are looking to take things one game at a time, with the potential of heightened expectations looming when the SCIAC schedule begins to hit throughout January and February.
"Our goal is grow a little bit each day," Eslinger said. "We will dissect and analyze where we're at one day at a time and hopefully take a small step forward each day. If we can do that, there will be favorable results, but those are none of our concern right now."
Eslinger and the Beavers will open the season on Saturday, Nov. 10 against Oberlin College at 3 p.m.