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Basketball team set to tip off season

by Kyle Galdeira, Sports editor


The HPU men’s basketball team will look to improve upon last season’s 9-17 record after enduring a drastic off-season make over. The Sea Warriors have an entirely new coaching staff—led by Athletic Director and Head Coach J.D. Barnett—as well as eight first-year players.

“Our new coaching staff brings us a whole new knowledge of the game,” said senior Kapena O’Neal. “They’re incredible basketball geniuses,” he added.


O’Neal, from Los Angeles, will use his 6-8, 256-pound frame to anchor the Sea Warriors at the center position. Alexandar “Sasha” Bojic, a 6-10 junior from Belgrade, Yugoslavia, will also get some time in the middle after red shirting all last year.

Coach Barnett said he is pleased with the quality of the inside players and is hoping for a dominant rebounder and shotblocker to emerge. He is also wary of injuries often suffered by the men in the middle as they jostle for position and the ball, as well as the lack of depth at both center and forward positions.

Forward Audrius Pecuikas, a 6-8 junior from Joniskis, Lithuania, earned PacWest Conference Honorable Mention last season. Pecuikas led the team in rebounds (6.7 per game), and blocked shots (1.2 per game), and also averaged 9.7 points per game.

Princeton Jiles and Aleksander Jakovljevic of Belgrade, Yugoslavia, will also spend time at forward. Jiles will play his senior season at HPU after helping to guide Drury University, in Springfield, Mo., to the Heartland Conference Championship last year.

Team captain Dante Sykes, who won the Slam Dunk Contest at Halloween Hoopla Oct. 28, will lead the squad from the guard position. The 6-2 senior started 20 of 26 games last season and brings experience and a solid defensive presence to a young team.

“ Dante is doing his best to provide an example and to be a leader,” said Barnett. “It is my hope that he will emerge as a leader for this year’s team because he has the experience of playing in the conference. He, as a senior, knows more than any other player what is in front of us.”

The other six guards on the roster are each playing in their first season as Sea Warriors. Gene Barnes transferred to HPU as a junior after playing for NCAA Division I powerhouse, the University of California Los Angeles.

Alex Swerzbin, also a junior, transferred from Clackamas Community College, in Oregon City, Ore., where he averaged 16.7 points and 8.8 assists per game. He was named to the Southern Region All-Region Second Team and All-Star Team after leading the conference in assists (229).

Stevie Johnson and Finis Harwell are junior transfers from Santa Rosa Junior College and College of Alameda, respectively. Johnson earned the team MVP award after posting 15.1 points, 4.6 assists and 1.7 steals per game; According to Assistant Coach Kelly Wells, he is the most athletic player on the team. Harwell led his team with 18 points a game and was named to the Bay Valley West Conference First Team.

Sophomore Felix Gartner and freshman Ryan Walker make up the rest of the Sea Warrior roster.

After a third-place finish in the PacWest Conference last season, Barnett is looking to be competitive and compile a winning record. “There are many variables with this team, and it is so early. I am very cautious not to set goals that are not attainable,” he said. “We have been picked last in the conference, and I certainly hope we are a much better team than the viewpoints of the conference coaches.”

Sykes hopes that the team will grow into a close-knit unit. “People are a lot closer this year, you can feel a greater sense of team chemistry with every practice,” he said. “We’re all excited about this year, and that excitement will allow us to build success on the court and get some wins under our belts.”

Barnett asked the HPU community to support the team by attending games. “We have great people in our program and high expectations of them as student athletes and as members of the University community,” he said. “We want to represent the institution in a positive and competitive way.”


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