Wayne Tinkle says his team’s recent trip to Italy couldn’t have come at a better time.
After all, the Oregon State men’s basketball roster for the coming season includes eight new scholarship players and 10 total players who are freshmen or sophomores.
“They’re going to need to fight through some ups and downs, but the thing we love is they’re playing hard and bringing it every day with great attitudes and they’re allowing us to coach them,” said Tinkle, whose team went 2-1 on the tour, which included some sightseeing and cultural experiences. “We know we’ll get better from week to week with those circumstances.”
One of the team’s primary objectives going into this season was getting back the culture that led to success in the past but was largely lost last year. A squad that featured seven scholarship newcomers never truly meshed, leading to a 3-28 overall record and just one Pac-12 win.
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The Beavers practiced for three weeks before heading to Italy, a stretch that Tinkle says was valuable in rebuilding that culture and chemistry.
“It’s never the same as game experience but the more rehearsal they have in the offseason heading into this year, I think the better off they’re going to be,” the coach said, adding that he saw the team rally together during the trip and did a lot of bonding on the court and off.
“We’ve still got some building to do, but we’ve got a great jumpstart on that piece. When we’ve got guys that are playing hard, playing the way we’re supposed to play and staying and playing together, we’ve proven that we can be successful. We believe that will be the case with this group, although we’re going to need some time to put it all together.”
Freshman forwards Tyler Bilodeau, Michael Rataj and Jayden Stevens were bright spots in the three games in Italy.
Bilodeau had a combined 27 points and 13 rebounds in the first two games. He had a team-best 19 points on 8-of-9 shooting versus Stella Azzurra.
Stevens combined for 27 points and eight rebounds over the final two games. Rataj had 13 points in one game and three steals in the other two.
Tinkle said the three weren’t intimidated at all and performed well while playing against professional from the Italian leagues.
“Jayden was a real spark plug for us,” the coach said, noting Stevens’ positive voice while on the bench and his encouragement of teamsmates during his playing time. “Just brought a lot of energy on both ends. Got us extra possessions by crashing the glass, hit some 3s, got out in transition.”
Of Bilodeau, Tinkle said: “We expected him to be a guy that could contribute right away, and he did some really good things for us and showed some great maturity” while showing skills on the perimeter and closer to the basketball.
Tinkle said Rataj was a bit down on himself because he missed some shots. But the coach reminded him that he had been with the team about a month less than his teammates because he was playing for his native Germany in the FIBA U20 European Championship earlier in the summer.
Junior guard Dexter Akanno and sophomore forward Glenn Taylor Jr., second-year players in the program who were key contributors last season, provided leadership to the young group on the trip, Tinkle said.
Taylor was the team’s leading scorer in one game with 16 and second in another with 13. Akanno had a team-high 18 points in the Beavers’ final game.
Junior center Chol Marial had a combined 25 rebounds in the three contests. Marial was declared academically ineligible by the NCAA last season after his transfer from Maryland last summer, but he’s expected to gain his eligibility after summer term grades are posted.
Tinkle said the 7-foot-2 Marial was nervous in his first live-game action in several years and disappointed that he missed some good looks.
“He’s really improved, so for him it’s going to be getting confidence come game time and continuing to grind and work in practice,” the coach said.
Freshman guard Jordan Pope showed flashes of potential in practices before the trip. In Italy, he combined for 19 points and four steals in the final two games.
Tinkle said the team will need Pope, a point guard, to be an impact player.
“He’s capable. He’s competitive,” Tinkle said. “He didn’t shoot it like he’d like to over there, and neither did (fellow freshman guard Nick Krass). But those guys are in the gym all the time and it was good for them to get that kind of experience.”
Sophomore guard Christian Wright, a first-year transfer from Georgia, had nine points in the first game but injured a knee early in OSU’s second game and didn’t play the rest of the trip. The team was still pending word on the extent of the injury earlier this week.
The Beavers were without two scholarship players on the trip.
Senior forward Rodrigue Andela, a key player on the 2021 Elite Eight team who missed the final 24 games last season with a foot injury, is in the process of applying for a US Permanent Resident Card, or green card, Tinkle said.
Andela, a Cameroon native, applied for the card last year. Anyone applying for such a card isn’t allowed to leave the country during the process.
Freshman guard Justin Rochelin, who redshirted at Arizona State last year, had a procedure to remove a bone spur from his knee in August before the team left for Italy and is expected back on the court by mid to late October.
Jesse Sowa is a sports reporter at the Corvallis Gazette-Times. You can connect with him on Twitter: @JesseSowaGT.