Heading into his second year, USD men’s basketball coach Todd Lee is looking to take the next step. Following a 13-17 record in the 2018-2019 season, Lee said, at USD basketball media day on Tuesday, a 2019-20 season that doesn’t end in a bid to the NCAA tournament will be a disappointment.
With a healthy group headed by Summit League preseason player of the year Stanley Umude, USD has their eyes set on exceeding expectations and taking the Summit League by storm.
This season, USD returns five seniors and two juniors, including four starters from the previous season.
“We’ve got a veteran group,” Lee said. “And I think at the mid-major level, to be good you have to be old. And we are old. If I could, I would redshirt everybody. Redshirting is great.”
The veteran presence is something the team missed last season. Aside from the leadership aspect, the Coyotes struggled to learn a new system brought in by Lee in his first season as head coach.
“We are way ahead of where we were last year,” Lee said. “Last year it felt like we were teaching basic things of the system into January or February. Now, we’ve already got press-breaking in, we’ve got certain things in that we would have never even got into last year.”
The leap in understanding is coming from a joint coaching effort between the coaching staff and returning players who have advanced in understanding the system.
“This year, we can have a player-led program,” Lee said. “Our guys were learning the system last year. With all the injuries we had last year, all the redshirting, it was a process of learning for our guys. This year, our players are teaching the newcomers.”
Umude, a junior, has stepped into his own leadership role on the team. The 6’6 guard averaged 14.4 points per game last season which led the team.
“The biggest change for me is being more of a leader, being more vocal out there, and getting people to be more responsible,” Umude said. “Not just myself, but my teammates as well.”
Lee said he was able to see the changes Umude has made since the beginning of last season happen right in front of him.
“Early in the year last year, [Umude] was trying to figure out his way. I was helping him figure out his way, and we were trying to figure that out together,” Lee said. “He changed right before our eyes, and he started to learn how to compete every day and go hard every day. He’s way better right now than he was last year. He’s a much better player.”
The return of Hagedorn
Arguably the biggest piece to return for the Coyotes is redshirt-senior forward Tyler Hagedorn, who missed last season with a high-grade medial plantar fascia tear. Although Hagedorn recovered from the injury before the season ended, the decision was made for him to redshirt his senior season.
“It was best for him and his future, and it was best for our program’s future, to be honest,” Lee said. “It wouldn’t have been fair to throw him out there in the middle of the year when he was just getting healthy. Last year, he dominated in practice sometimes. And you go ‘This sucks, this kid can’t play.’”
Hagedorn and Lee both agreed to have the redshirt implemented after visiting with Hagedorn’s parents. Despite missing a year of in-game action, Hagedorn said he believes the year off was a great experience and he will return better than before.
“It was a struggle to watch those guys play and lose some close games here and there when I felt like I could have played and helped them,” Hagedorn said. “But on the other side, I knew it was the best decision for me. I guess that’s the positive part of the injury, I’ve just been working out and getting better throughout the past year.”
In his junior season, Hagedorn converted on 44 three-pointers and led the team in both rebounds and blocked shots. Lee said the offense is more functional when they are able to run part of it through Hagedorn.
“We didn’t have anyone like [Hagedorn] last year,” Lee said. “So, we’re able to do things with him out on the floor that we just couldn’t do last year.”
The Coyotes struggled mightily with injuries throughout the entire team last season, not just with Hagedorn.
“There were games last year where we had six guys playing,” Lee said. “We had to try and stay out of foul trouble. Every time a foul was called on one of our guys the bench went into panic mode. We can’t play that way.”
The injuries subsequently led to problems for the players who were healthy. Players such as former starter Trey Burch-Manning were forced to step into roles foreign to them.
“It was unfair to our players at times,” Lee said. “We had Burch-Manning playing the five, sometimes [Umude] was playing the five. It just wasn’t fair to them, but they battled.”
Heading into the season, the Coyotes are not facing any injuries. In addition, they have bolstered their depth and are already seeing the results in the eleven official practices they have held.
“It’s a completely different group than we had last year,” Lee said. “Practices are much more competitive, much more physical. If our starting group is not competing [at practice] they’re going to be beat.”
Last season, USD lost twelve games by seven or fewer points. With both the return of Hagedorn and less worry about players coming off the bench, Lee said the team is better positioned to win tight contests.
Lee’s recruiting has been crucial to the added depth on the Coyote’s roster. The team has brought in five players from overseas during Lee’s tenure, including two with international basketball experience. Freshman guard Kruz Perrott-Hunt is a former member of the New Zealand national team, while freshman forward Hunter Goodrick has played league basketball in Australia.
With veteran returners and strong bench players, USD has garnered considerable hype in the conference heading into the upcoming season, ranking only behind defending Summit League champions North Dakota State. Lee said he believes the Summit League race to be a tight one.
“It’s going to be a wide-open race, I think,” Lee said. “Anybody can get beat on any given night. I know our guys’ goal is to win the Summit League regular season, and then win the Summit League tournament. And if we don’t, it’s a disappointing year.”
However, Lee said the team has bigger goals outside of the conference.
“If we don’t make it to the NCAA tournament it will be a disappointing season. That’s the way I look at it.”