MIAMI SHORES, Fla. – Newcomer Deric Hill had no reservations.
“We’re going to have a winning season,” Barry University’s junior point guard said a day before the Buccaneers men’s basketball season tips off in a 7 p.m. game at Johnson & Wales at the Wildcat Center in North Miami.
Optimism certainly springs forth from this 2013-14 Bucs team, which blends 11 players who didn’t suit up in Barry Red and Black last season with a high-energy coach whose pedigree runs deep into the lore and legend of Tobacco Road.
First-year coach Butch Estes, who got his start under legendary North Carolina coach Dean Smith, brings a 443-309 overall record in 30 seasons at all levels throughout the country. He inherited a team that returns just two players who’ve had any relevant experience at Barry – and none who’ve truly completed a full season.
“Our challenge as coaches and players is to make sure we’re improving each day and in each game,” Estes said. “Our goal is to go out and play our very best each and every game. That’s how we’ll evaluate ourselves.”
The evaluation process has so many elements, and personnel is a big part of what goes into how it all takes shape. The Buccaneers are form-fitted in different ways, and it’s all starting to peek through.
“Now we’ve established our roles,” Estes said. “Each guy is beginning to understand his responsibilities. Our guard position has lived up to what I’d hoped it would be. The only disappointment there is with Derrick Bolanos and his injury. At least early on, Nico (Ostbye) and Arie (Williams) are nice backups to Juan (Ferales) and Deric. That will be a nice rotation."
In Estes’ high-energy system that will intertwine flashes of methodical, controlled basketball while employing multiple defensive sets, all the while adjusting to the new rule changes to closely monitor contact and fouls, rotation will be key. A multitude of players will get their shot when the green light goes on.
“We have a lot of guys that can step up,” said Ostbye, who was with the Bucs from January on last year, but never suited up in a game. “Compared to a lot of other teams, I feel like we have probably more players that can get the job done. We have a lot of new players, and it’s always a process when it’s that many new faces and coaches, but I think we have a chance to become really good if we keep up the hard work in practice.”
Barry’s forward position may be its most versatile and athletic. Skilled in so many ways, the wing positions offer the Buccaneers great flexibility. Not to mention opportunities.
“I’ve been pleased with the development of all of our players,” Estes said. “Yunio Barrueta is a very versatile player. He’ll need to score, as well as rebound for us. Savad Garner is so much fun to coach and so much fun to watch play because of his tenacity. I think he’s going to be an outstanding defensive player.”
Magne Fivelstad and Garrett Naughton are the only two holdovers from last year’s team. Bolanos was hurt in the 2012-13 season in which Barry went 13-14, bowing out in the Sunshine State Conference tournament quarterfinals. Fivelstad is the leading returning scorer at 10.5 points and 5.9 rebounds per game – and he had to sit out the first seven games after spending the previous year at Barry watching from the sideline. Yet, in what many would perceive as only his sophomore year, the Norwegian-born Fivelstad enters his final year of college basketball based on NCAA rulings.
“Magne has given us the leadership and the consistency that you’d like from your seniors, “ Estes said, revealing that Fivelstad, Barrueta and Ferrales will serve as the team-appointed captains.
That the trio will embody those leadership roles in unison is symbolic of what this team is built on: sharing, while putting the pedal to the metal.
“What’s our trademark? It’s unselfish offense. It’s multiple defense,” Estes said. “I want us to continue to be aggressive. I us to make sure that we are the aggressor, that we are the actor and not the reactor.”
“Our team is really unselfish, so I think it’s going to go a long way,” Ostbye said. “The unselfishness is amazing. I’ve played on a couple different teams, and this is probably one of the most unselfish teams I’ve played on so far.”
That giving nature extends even to the biggest body on the floor. Matt Gamberoni, a 6-foot-9. 255-pound center, is an adept passer who can knock down the mid-range jumper.
“Matt, his size and his passing ability are going to be great assets to our team,” Estes said. “As he continues to improve, he’ll be more and more instrumental.”
Earlier in the week, Estes said his team was about 60 percent of the way towards grasping the concepts he and his staff are implementing. Three days later, that number has increased, in his eyes.
“We are probably about 80 percent there,” Estes said 60 hours after digesting the team's progress from an exhibition against NCAA Division I South Florida at the Sun Dome in Tampa. “The system is new to all of them. They’ve grasped it. Our non-conference part of our schedule will allow us time now to refine it.”
“It’s hard to put a percentage on it, but some days we’re close,” Ostbye said. “I think we are starting to understand what’s needed, and what we need to do to succeed.”
Freshmen will have to grow up quickly, newcomers must acclimate themselves quickly to find a comfort zone, and the sharing, I’ve-got-your-back mentality must run its course all season long in order for Hill’s prediction to hold up.
“At FIU, it was like the same thing as now,” said Hill, who transferred, along with Ferrales from Florida International after two seasons and two coaching staffs, and has quickly embraced the high-octane style his new coach is allowing he and his teammates to freelance more often than script. “We came off a losing season, got a new coaching staff, new players. It was all about chemistry. Chemistry is what got us far.”
That’s what Barry insists it has this year – that glue that’s molded this team tightly together. Not to mention a fighter’s mentality that won’t wilt easily.
“I think we’ve got a tough team,” Ostbye said. “We don’t back down. We keep going. I think we’re going to see that throughout the season. We have a lot of guys that, you know, compete every day in practice, and I think that shows on the floor. We’re just going to get better.
“Of course, we’re going to meet adversity, and it’s really how we handle that adversity. That’s the time when it’s going to show (what we’re made of). I think we have the guys that are capable of getting through that. We just have to work together, and keep going.”
Those guys include newcomers, whose roles were uncertain when school started, but have now begun to offer glimpses to what could be.
“Arie is a very smart player,” Estes said of his Chicago transplant find. “He’s picking things up really quickly. Nico is a threat from anywhere at any time. He brings a really nice outside game to our team. Adrian Gonzalez will be one of the first wings off the bench. He has a very bright future, but is going through the transition from high school to college. He’s like a flower that’s trying to open up its pedals and bloom.
“Alvaro (Simoza) is going to be really a big part down the road, and his progression from his injury has been excellent. He’ll fit in more and more as we go along. He’s regaining his confidence. Philly (Henry Leonardo), I think his athleticism and his intensity are very valuable.”
How valuable everyone becomes to this team as roles are defined and then accepted with honor and integrity, all the while maintaining that unselfish creed, will ultimately determine the team’s fate.
“We’re excited just to get going and to show people we’ve been working hard in the preseason and the last couple months preparing for this,” Ostbye said. “We’re trying to get off to a really good start.”