Southern Utah's men's basketball team opens a pair of new eras this weekend when the team officially begins workouts in preparation for the 2012-13 season: the Nick Robinson era and the Big Sky era.
Robinson takes over this season following the retirement of Roger Reid at the end of the 2011-12 campaign, while the University has moved to the Big Sky after 15 seasons as a member of the Summit League/Mid-Continent Conference.
The team will hold a closed practice Friday night, then will practice in two open sessions on Saturday. The first Saturday practice will begin at 11:00 a.m. while the second will be at 8:00 p.m.
"We're extremely excited for Friday evening, to begin our first official practice of the season," Robinson said. "We've had a great fall pre-season but we're anxious to continue our preparation for the coming year."
Practice Schedule: The practice schedule calls for the Thunderbirds to work out Friday evening, then again on Saturday at 11:00 a.m. and at 8:00 p.m. in the Centrum Arena. Beginning on Monday the team will work out daily at 3:15 p.m. Practices will be held in both the Multi-Purpose Center and the Centrum until the end of volleyball season, depending upon each team's schedule. Following the conclusion of volleyball season practices will be held in the Centrum Arena.
Media Availability: Saturday's practices will be open to all media, Friday's practice is closed to the media. Beginning next week players and coaches will be available on Tuesdays prior to practice at 2:30 p.m.
Head Coach Nick Robinson (Stanford, 2005) is entering his first season at SUU and his first season as a head coach.
Coach Robinson came to Southern Utah from LSU, where he spent three seasons on the staff. Prior to his time at LSU Robinson spent a season at William Jewell College and two seasons on the staff at his alma mater, Stanford.
During his time as an assistant coach, Robinson helped guide his teams to a combined record of 87-47 and four post-season appearances, including two NCAA, one NIT and one NAIA Division I national tournaments.
Radio: All Southern Utah men's basketball games will be broadcast live by KSUU (91.1 FM) as well as on the internet at www.suu.edu/ksuu. Art Challis will be in his 40th season as the Thunderbirds' basketball play-by-play voice. Dr. Challis is joined on home and selected road broadcasts by former SUU standout Dean O'Driscoll.
SUU has 10 letter-winners - including two starters - and one redshirt returning from last year's squad.
Forward Jackson Stevenett and guard Damon Heuir are the returning starters, while Wade Collie, Jaren Jeffery, Jordan Jonson, Tyson Koehler, Chris Nsenki, Julian Scott Cal Hanks and Matt Gardner also return. John Renfro is also back after spending last season as a redshirt.
Stevenett earned second-team all-Summit League recognition last year after leading the Thunderbirds in scoring and rebounding. He then went on to earn a spot on the Summit League's all-tournament team following a 26-point, nine-rebound effort in the team's first round win over Oakland. Stevenett averaged 14.1 points and 5.7 rebounds last season while shooting at a 51.2 rate from the field and .758 from the free throw line.
Heuir also capped his season with a stellar performance at the Summit League tourney, scoring 23 points and dishing out a team-high five assists in the win over Oakland, then leading the team with 14 points and three assists against South Dakota State in the semi-finals after Stevenett suffered a sprained ankle early in that game. For the season Heuir averaged 10.8 points, 3.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists.
Collie played in all but one game with four starts and averaged 4.3 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. He also played a key role in the Thunderbirds' Summit League tourney win over Oakland, hitting all five of his shots and both of his free throw to finish with 14 points in the 84-82 win.
Johnson, along with Stevenett, is one of two returning players who played in all 31 of the team's games last year. The defensive specialist and the team's sixth man averaged 2.3 points and 2.1 rebounds per game and was second on the squad with 28 steals.
Jeffery, Koehler and Nsenki all contributed off the bench as well, with Jeffery and Nsenki appearing in 23 games and Koehler in 22. Jeffery averaged 1.2 ppg, while Nsenki, the team's primary back-up point guard, averaged 0.3 ppg and Koehler chipped in 2.4 points and 1.2 rebounds per game while leading the tema in shooting percentage at .611.
Scott appeared in 15 games and averaged 2.5 points and 1.3 rebounds while Hanks, who played in five games, averaged 3.0 points and 0.8 rebounds, and Gardner appeared in two games and averaged 3.0 points and 1.0 rebounds in 2011-12.
Cheesman was an all-Scenic West Athletic Conference performer last season at Salt Lake Community College, while Hess was an all-Arizona selection as well as Arizona's small schools player of the year last year. Ghormley and Thomas were teammates on back-to-back Texas state championship squads at Grace Preparatory Academy. Ghormley was an all-district and second-team all-state selection while Thomas was an all-district honoree for the Lions last year.
Southern Utah opens the season Nov. 9 at Gonzaga, then plays a three-game tournament at Nevada where the Thunderbirds will face Wisconsin-Green Bay, Cal State Fullerton and the host Wolfpack Nov. 16-18.
The first home game is scheduled for Nov. 22 when the T-Birds host Carroll College. The team then takes a week off over the Thanksgiving break before hitting the road again, this time for a date with TCU and Robinson's mentor, first-year Horned Frog Coach Trent Johnson, on Nov. 29.
SUU opens December with three straight home games. The Thunderbirds host San Diego Christian on Dec. 1 and San Diego on Dec. 4, before a break for finals, then they open Big Sky play at home against North Dakota on Dec. 17. SUU steps out of BSC play for one game to visit Denver for a Dec. 21 contest, then takes another break for the Christmas holiday before resuming conference play on Dec. 29, at home against Northern Colorado.
The first conference road trip begins Jan. 5 when the team travels to Northern Arizona and on to Sacramento State for a Jan. 7 match-up. SUU hosts Weber State on Jan. 10 before welcoming former Thunderbird Coach Bill Evans and his Idaho State Bengals to the Centrum on Jan. 12.
SUU then travels to Montana for a Jan. 17 game at Montana and a Jan. 21 contest against Montana State before closing out the month with three straight at home, against Portland State on Jan. 24, Eastern Washington on Jan. 26, and against Sacramento State on the 31st.
February opens with a home game against Northern Arizona on the second, then the team plays four straight on the road: at Idaho State (Feb. 7), at Weber State (Feb. 9), at Portland State on Valentines Day and at Eastern Washington on Feb. 16.
The Thunderbirds return home to host a Sears BracketBuster game against an opponent to be named on Feb. 23, then closes out its home schedule against Montana State on Feb. 28 and Montana in the only Monday home game of the season, March 4. The final two road games are at Northern Colorado on March 7 and North Dakota on March 9.
The Big Sky tournament will be held at the regular-season champion's arena, beginning March 14.