Seniors lead men’s basketball into new season

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Robert Sandoval is one of five seniors on the Cougar roster.
Photo Courtesy: APU Sports Information

APU’s men’s basketball, a team that went 17-10 last season, is preparing for a new year with a strong core of veteran players.

The team went 17-10 overall, 13-7 in conference last year. The Cougars ended their season with an 86-70 loss to Point Loma in the NCCAA championship game. They had the fifth best record in the PacWest conference. Overall, the team had a scoring percentage of .471 over the course of 27 games.

Despite a decent record last year, the team is hoping to improve this season.

“I think that we were all disappointed at the end of the year with where we were,” senior guard Troy Leaf said. “I think we knew that we were capable of more than we had, and I think it was due to inconsistency.”

During the offseason, Leaf said the team focused on conditioning by working in the weight room. There are five seniors on the team: Leaf, Robert Sandoval, Bruce English, Andy Jones and Kevin Stafford.

“We all know that this is our last season, this is our last chance, and I think that mentality and attitude is carrying over to the whole team,” Leaf said.

Leaf said he has put himself and his personal goals aside for the team.

“I don’t really have a personal goal. It’s more, I want to win,” he said. “I could care less what happens with myself as long as we’re winning the games we’re supposed to win.”

Last season, Leaf led the team in scoring with 474 points and had 54 three-pointers. He also made 120 free throws and 46 personal fouls. He was the third best scorer in the PacWest. He and Sandoval were tied for fifth in total assists with 107.

The team’s goal is to compete in a PacWest Championship.

“There’s been a lot of buildup for this,” head coach Justin Leslie said. “We’ve been recruiting for this for four years.”

Coming into this season, Leslie said the team focused on what tweaks it needed to make to become a successful team. He said players believe they have a strong group, but the team’s success will come from thinking and being tough and being simple in its game plans. Some examples of those simplifications include allowing fewer entries offensively and staying consistent as a defense. He also said that this team should be strong in rebounding.

Leaf and Sandoval, both All-Conference players, were called out by Leslie as two Cougars who should have big seasons.

“They need to display consistency throughout the course of the season,” Leslie said. “As they go, our team will go. It’s a challenge for them to every day live up to that. They’re ready for it.”

“This program has always been about team success,” Leslie said. “It’s hard to make a sacrifice as a player when the team isn’t as successful as you would like it to be. It’s not any one individual, it’s what the team can do. We’re going to have lots of guys that are going to help us win games this year, and that’s exciting, because we need everyone to embrace their role. Having the opportunity to play for the postseason is just going to help in that process.”

The scheduling this season is going to be challenging for the team. However, NCAA seeding takes into account the depth of the team’s schedule, so Leslie is looking forward to having a more difficult lineup of opponents.

“Philosophically, I don’t believe in playing a soft schedule,” Leslie said.

The team plays BYU-Hawaii, Dixie State and Cal Baptist twice each this season. The Cougars open the season with two exhibition games against UCLA and Washington State before hitting the road to Cal State San Bernadido and Cal Poly Pomona. Then there’s the first home game Nov. 17 against Occidental. APU begins conference play Dec. 6 against Fresno Pacific.

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