To say San Jose State has gone through a turbulent off-season would be putting it mildly.
The Spartans, who went 14-16 last season (7-11 in conference), lost not only their coach but their top player, Brandon Clarke.
Coach Dave Wojcik resigned unexpectedly for personal reasons over the summer, and Jean Prioleau, a longtime assistant at Colorado, was hired in late August a few days before school started.
“I’ve always thought this was a gold mine job,” Prioleau said at the recent MW Summit in Las Vegas last month. “The Silicon Valley has a rich basketball tradition in California, not just the Bay Area.”
That may be true, but the Spartans have long played second fiddle to Cal and Stanford among others. Prioleau hopes he can change the culture.
“Our door is open to any player, high school or junior college,” Prioleau said. “I will use all the coaching ties that I have to get kids here.”
Prioleau immediately met with the team upon his hiring, and just a couple of weeks later, found out Clarke, who averaged 17.3 points and 8.7 rebounds per game, had left the team and signed with Gonzaga. Under NCAA rules, Clarke will sit out a year.
With the constant changeover of player across the country, you have to wonder whether Clarke was poached or left because of the coaching change.
Prioleau made it clear he doesn’t believe Clarke was recruited illegally.
“There are no hard feelings,” Prioleau said. “We wish him the best.”
“Excited to say that I am committing to Gonzaga University. Thank you to the man upstairs I cannot wait to be a Bulldog!!!,” Clarke said on his Twitter account when he announced his transfer.
Obviously Prioleau will deal with players he didn’t recruit. He was upbeat, however, after a 95-61 exhibition win recently over Dominican.
“We have five or six, or maybe eight guys that have started to separate themselves, but in order for us to compete we need to stretch that number to 10,” he said. “We can’t rely on just five or six guys.”
Clarke’s absence leaves the Spartans a big hole both in scoring and rebounding. The most logical replacements for a big body could be 6-11 JC transfer Oumar Barry from Iowa Western or 6-11 returnee Ashtin Chastain, who averaged 1.1 last season in 14 games. Barry scored 11 and Chastain 13 in the recent exhibition victory.
The scoring void will need to be filled by 6-10 forward Ryan Welage (12.7 ppg, 42 percent FG shooter), Jalen James (4.5, 2.2) and Jaycee Hillsman (5.2,1.9) along with redshirt freshman Keith Fisher III.
Hillsman led the Spartans with 16 points in the exhibition opener. Welage is coming off the bench this year, a new role for him.
Prioleau was quick to point out it’s who’s on the floor at the end is more important than who starts a game.
Other returnees are Ryan Singer (0.3, 0.1), Isaiah Nichols (3.8, 1.5) and two redshirts, Nai Carlisle, who scored four points in the exhibition opener, and Fisher who tallied eight. Fisher also pulled down seven rebounds.
“I’m anxious to play (after last year),” Fisher said.
Besides Barry, the newcomers are 6-5 freshman Noah Baumann, 6-7 freshman forward Walter Graves III, 5-10 guard Ryan Parilla from nearby James Logan in Union City, and 6-6 guard Caleb Simmons.