Coach Ed Conroy hopes his second reboot provides a swift kick in the right direction for the Tulane men’s basketball team.
Just as in 2013-14, the Green Wave had more new faces than old ones at Media Day, but the similarities ended there. That team was starting over after its best players transferred. This one lost mainly role players while welcoming by far the highest rated recruited class in Conroy’s five-year tenure.
The total count of newcomers is seven, with five freshmen plus graduate transfer Jernard Jarreau from Washington and LSU transfer Malik Morgan, who practiced with the team a year ago but could not play.
Only five scholarship players are back, and one of them, sophomore guard Cameron Reynolds, redshirted last season after getting a thumb injury in December. That matches the number of guys who left, although sophomore point guard Jonathan Stark was the only starter.
“The influx of the new guys has really energized our program,” Conroy said. “Even though we don’t have great numbers out there in practice, our five-on-five possessions are really competitive and intense. It bodes well.”
The Wave is starved for success. Tulane’s best conference record under Conroy was 8-8 in 2013-14, when it surpassed low preseason expectations by a wide margin in weak Conference USA. Its best overall record was 20-15 in 2012-13, but it went 6-10 in C-USA before the offseason transfer of point guard Ricky Tarrant and power forward Josh Davis blindsided the program.
Mired in mediocrity since its last NIT appearance in 2000, Tulane might have the raw material for a breakthrough, even if a first NCAA tournament appearance since 1995 likely remains out of reach.
“Getting this program to the postseason to one of those two tournaments would be a big step forward,” Conroy said. “It’s one I think this bunch is capable of. They’re going to have to work hard at improving every day. When you play in a league like ours (American Athletic Conference), every night out is a chance for a win that can put you in a postseason position.
“The challenge for this group is, can we withstand that grind?”
It’s a question senior guard Louis Dabney admitted he lied about in the past when he spoke positively about the Wave’s potential, but after raving about Tulane’s potential before the first day of preseason practice, he doubled down on his optimism nearly three weeks later.
“Not to say anything bad about the recruiting class two years ago, but this class has a lot more talent and a lot more fight and aggressiveness,” he said. “They want to win.”
The pivotal aspect could be the development of freshman Von Julien, a Riverside Academy alum just like Dabney and Tulane’s only true point guard. They played together at Riverside four years ago before Dabney tore his ACL.
“Von has come along real fast,” Dabney said. “Just the way he has been picking up on stuff lately has been real inspirational. To see a freshman just come with an attitude every practice and be willing to take criticism and get better every day, I have a good feeling that he’ll be ready.”
The rest of the roster faces other question marks. Among them:
Who will replace departed senior Jay Hook, who hit more than 40 percent of his 3-point shots the past two years? Will Morgan, a highly touted recruit when he signed with LSU, be rusty after sitting out his transfer year? What does Jarreau, an athletic 6-foot-10 center, have left in his body after four injury-plagued years at Washington? Is sophomore center Dylan Osetkowski, who showed great feel as a freshman, ready to make a quantum leap after getting in better shape? Will the talented freshmen, including Melvin Frazier, Kain Harris and Blake Paul, fit in right away offensively and defensively?
The answers will begin coming Nov. 5, when Tulane plays an exhibition against Loyola at Devlin Fieldhouse.
“I’ve been particularly pleased with the returning guys so far, just in terms of their leadership all through the summer and how they came back committed to taking their game up a notch,” Conroy said. “They are really in there battling.”