After a 2010-11 season that saw only 12 wins by the Louisiana Tech men's basketball program, the Bulldogs begin a new with first year head coach Michael White.
White comes to Ruston from Ole Miss after seven years as an assistant coach where he developed a reputation as one of the top assistants in the country.
White plans on using a fast-pace, dribble drive, ball-screen style of offense full of quick-hitting sets aimed at keeping opponents off balance and getting the right players shots at the correct time.
Defensively, the Bulldogs will utilize pressure man-to-man that will create chaos for opposing teams while sprinkling in some zones to keep opponents off balance.
White and his staff brought in six newcomers this year including two transfers from Ole Miss who are familiar with White from his coaching days with the Rebels. Senior guard Trevor Gaskins (Alpharetta, Ga.) and freshman forward Isaiah Massey (McDonough, Ga.) will help fill the void of losing seven players from last season.
"We have a number of young guys that will play a lot of minutes for us this season and will be good players for us the next couple of years," White said.
This year's LA Tech squad will be young as 10 of the 14 players are either sophomores or freshmen. The Bulldogs will need production from its younger players as the team lost 57 percent of the scoring and 50 percent of the rebounding, including the departure of its top two scorers and its leading rebounder.
"We have a family atmosphere, and we will be fun to watch if you like to see kids play hard, play the right way, and get after it defensively," White said. "Despite where we will probably be ranked in the preseason, we will be competitive."
White looks to build a foundation of success this season with the majority of the team being underclassmen.
"The goal every year is to get to the NCAA tournament," White said. "I don't want to sell ourselves short, but we are going through the building process for the program. At the same time, I think we have enough pieces to be competitive. We want to improve as a team through March and give ourselves an opportunity to play in the postseason."
Sophomore Kenyon McNeaill (Conway, Ark.) is back after a stand-out freshman year that saw him play in all 32 games, starting 30 of them. While averaging 8.7 points a game and leading the team in assists and steals, McNeaill also set the freshman school record for three-point field goals attempted, made and percentage in a season.
After suffering a knee injury in the first conference game last season, junior Brandon Gibson (Marianna, Fla.) returns to the court and hopes to build on the success he was having prior to the setback last year.
"When we get Brandon back to 100 percent, he has a chance for a really great season," said White. "He can really shoot the ball and presents a matchup problem with his size and versatility."
Gibson is the leading returning scorer (9.2 ppg) and rebounder (5.1 rpg) even though he only played in 15 contests. Along with playing time in the backcourt, he will see time in the frontcourt because of his size as well.
Sophomores Cordarius Johnson (Coushatta, La.) and Lonnie Smith (Birmingham, Ala.) return to add experience at the wing position. Both of them saw action in 31 games. Redshirt-freshman forward Stojan Gjuroski (Gostivar, Macedonia) will also be competing for playing time at the wing position.
"They can all drive, pass and make shots, but they are all different in their strengths and weaknesses," White said.
Gaskins will be counted on to provide leadership and scoring this season after transferring from Ole Miss under the graduate student rule by the NCAA. At Ole Miss last season he played in 31 games, starting nine of them, and averaged 6.1 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 0.9 steals per game.
"Trevor is a proven scorer at the highest level and is very familiar with the new style we are going to implement," said White.
Three freshmen will also see time in the Tech backcourt this season in Raheem Appleby (Jacksonville, Ark.), Alex Carr (Adamsville, Ala.) and Kenneth Smith (St. Petersburg, Fla.). Appleby and Carr can both shoot the ball well and Smith is the best passer and pure point guard on the squad, according to White.
While on paper the frontcourt seems to be the biggest question mark of the team, White has high hopes for this group heading into the season.
"They bring strengths in terms of toughness, experience and a blue-collar mentality," said White.
Senior Romario Souza (Mias Gerais, Brazil) returns for his second and final season at Louisiana Tech after playing in 28 games in his first year with the program. He recorded modest numbers with 3.7 points and 2.7 rebounds per game.
Joining Souza down low will be junior J.L. Lewis (Gonzales, La.) who averaged 1.8 points and 2.6 rebounds in 29 games.
Also providing depth in the backcourt will be freshmen Michale Kyser (Lancaster, Texas), Robby Price (Anacoco, La.) and Massey. Massey is waiting to hear a ruling from the NCAA on his waiver request, which would allow him to play immediately instead of having to sit out a year due to NCAA transfer rules.
Similar to the past few seasons, Tech's schedule will consist of an in-season tournament, in-state and regional opponents and a big-time road game. Of the 16 non-conference contests, 13 of them will take place in Louisiana or an adjoining state.
For the first time since the 2000-01 season, the Bulldogs will tip-off the season at home when they face Mississippi College on Nov. 13.
After the opener, Tech will hit the road for six straight games beginning with a trip to face future conference opponent UT-Arlington on Nov. 19. The Bulldogs then travel to Wyoming to play three consecutive games in the Jim Thorpe Classic over the Thanksgiving weekend, facing Maryland Eastern Shore, Portland State and Wyoming Nov. 25-27.
Tech continues their road trip on Nov. 30 with a trip to Hammond to face Southeastern Louisiana for the first time in 20 years and follows with a trip down I-20 Dec. 3 to play Louisiana Monroe.
On Dec. 6, recently inducted LA Tech Hall of Famer Mike McConathy brings his Northwestern State Demons to Ruston for the first Bulldogs' home game in three weeks. Tech returns to the road Dec. 10 for a trip to face Southern Miss for the first time since the Bulldogs beat the Golden Eagles in the first round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament in 2010.
A three-game homestand begins against McNeese State (Dec. 14) and is followed by games against Arkansas-Little Rock (Dec. 17) and Northeastern of the Colonial Athletic Association (Dec. 20). Tech travels to Fayetteville, Ark. to face SEC foe Arkansas on Dec. 22 for its most high profile game of the non-conference slate.
"I think it will be exciting because Arkansas competes at the highest level and plays in one of the greatest environments and facilities in college basketball," said White. "It is right before Christmas when we give our guys a few days off, and it will be interesting to see how Mike Anderson has implemented his style of play of 40 minutes of pressure. We will try to implement a lot of the things that they do, so we thought it would be a good idea for our players to see it first-hand and try to match-up with similar styles."
The final home contest of the 2011 calendar year takes place on Dec. 29 against Spring Hill College out of Mobile, Ala., with Tech finishing the year on the road against SMU in Dallas on Dec. 31.
Western Athletic Conference play begins following the New Year break with the first game taking place Jan. 7 at home against New Mexico State, which also starts a three-game home stand that includes games against Idaho (Jan. 12) and four-time defending regular season conference champion Utah State (Jan. 14).
Trips to Hawai'i (Jan. 19) and San Jose State (Jan. 21) and home contests against Fresno State (Jan. 26) and Nevada (Jan. 28) round out the first half of conference play.
Three consecutive road games begin the month of February for Tech starting with a trip to New Mexico State on the fourth and followed by games at Utah State on the ninth and Idaho on the 11th. A home matchup against North Dakota (Feb. 16) is the first of a four game homestand and first of two straight non-conference contests.
LA Tech hosts an annual BracketBuster games for the second consecutive year on Feb. 18 against an opponent that has yet to be determined. The home portion of the schedule ends with San Jose State on Feb. 23 and Hawai'i on Feb. 25. The regular season slate finishes up with road trips to Fresno State and Nevada on March 1 and 3, respectively.
The 2012 WAC Tournament will take place March 7-10 in Las Vegas, Nev. at the Orleans Arena for the second straight year.