In the first year of the Matt Brackett era there was one thing missing from a very talented team of guards -- height.
Brackett addressed the glaring need in recruiting bringing in four players 6-6 or taller and the Cowboys return a bevy of guards to go with the new frontline in hopes of getting back to competing for the ASC title after a 9-16 season a year ago.
"I thought our guards were as good as anyone in the league last year," said Brackett. "We were just so small and although we battled hard we were outsized up front every night. We competed and stayed in games because our guys played hard and never backed down. I think our margin of error is a little bigger this season just because of the size we have added."
The Cowboys have one of the best players in the league in Joe Hoeup. The senior from Santa Rosa, Calif., averaged 17.7 points and 4.9 rebounds. He is one of the most electric guards in the country as he had 17 dunks last season and he also hit 54 3-pointers.
"Joe is so talented," said Brackett. "He can beat you to the rim, if you lay off him he will bury it, he has a nice pull-up, he can do anything on the offensive end. He is also a great teammate. He doesn't care who gets the credit he has one goal and that is to win and that is what you want out of your best players."
Junior Chris Barrett was one of the top point guards in the conference a year ago and he does what every coach wants out of his lead guard – take care of the ball and get it to the right people. Barrett had 109 assists last year and just 39 turnovers. He shot 45 percent from the field and averaged 9.4 points and 5.0 rebounds per game.
"Chris is so good with the basketball," said Brackett. "He sees the floor well, he has a nice mid-range game and he can go by you and get to the rim, while always looking for the open man. He also is a great defender. I think he is the best point guard in the conference."
Junior Keenan Holdman is the guy that does everything for the Cowboys. Last season he guarded one through five and most of the time was on a big. He can get to the rim, takes good shots and gets to the free throw line. He averaged 11.4 points and 4.0 rebounds per contest.
"Keenan can handle the ball, shoot, defend, anything we ask him to do he is a guy that finds a way to get it done. He is tough and tough-minded. He shot 84 percent at the free throw line last year on 138 attempts. He gets there a lot and knocks them down."
Seniors Ryan Chaney and Keilyn Nance give the Cowboys experience on the perimeter. Nance, who was the ASC tri-Newcomer of the Year, had to play inside a lot last year because of the size limitations but is moving back to the three where he is more comfortable. Chaney can knock down shots and has all of the intangibles.
Freshmen Kadon Lewis and Quinton Hudson are both expected to add scoring ability. Lewis will work behind Barrett at the point and Hudson behind Hoeup. Returners Zane Zbranek, Bryce Richardson and Tristan Martin will all add depth and the ability to shoot. Dallas Baptist transfer Justin Lovvorn is a knockdown shooter and will help make up for the 81 lost 3-pointers from graduated senior Caleb Spoon from a year ago.
"We love our depth," said Brackett. "They make it hard on each other every day in practice because they are all fighting for time. They work hard and they are coachable. We have some young guys that we think are going to be really good players in the future, but there are some veterans too. They are all going to have to accept their roles and be ready when they are called on or be great teammates if their number isn't called in a game."
The big difference for the Cowboys will be up front and it is a new look. Jalen Terry, a 6-7 forward, will be an immediate impact player. He is a Division II transfer from Humboldt State that has one season of eligibility left.
"Jalen reminds me of a player we had here when I played named Calvin Nite that was a Division II transfer with one year left that came in and was the ASC player of the year. Jalen can do everything, he is a physical specimen, that can shoot the three, attack the rim and work down in the paint."
Terry will be backed up by freshman Steve Quinn, a 6-4 athletic player that can shoot and attack the rim, and Chris Henderson. Henderson did not play last season but is a talented scorer.
Up front will be three freshmen that the Cowboys will be able to build around. All three are good around the basket and can step out and shoot as well. Trey Woolridge is a long 6-9 athlete that is still growing into his body. He can really protect the rim and has nice touch on the offensive end. Neal Chambliss is a 6-6 leaper that is more of a threat on offense and Kyle Roberts, is a big 6-7 body that can really score. He has missed most of the preseason with a knee injury but will be back soon.
"We knew we had to upgrade up front and we were able to bring in some size. We are so excited to see what all of those guys can do. Jalen, Steve, Neal, Trey and Kyle are all guys we think can be guys that dominate on both ends of the floor. We are excited about their potential. We know there will be some growing pains, but they are going to be thrown into the fire from the start and we know they will get better and better."
Working in so many new faces with a strong returning nucleus has been the Cowboys number one goal of the preseason.
"We have a lot of talent and they are battling every day for playing time." Said Brackett. "They work hard and they have come together as a team pretty quickly. We think we will be a team that improves as the season goes, because we do have some new faces that are learning the college game on the fly. This team has high expectations for itself."