Hironaka looks to young squad

The Seattle Pacific University Falcons enter this season with a lot of unknowns.

Last year, they lost five seniors who accounted for 41 points per game, including former big man, 6-foot-10-inch center Rob Will, who led the team in points and rebounds. The Falcons only have one returning starter: senior forward Casey Reed.

"We’re lacking that experience. We don’t have that chemistry right now," head coach Jeff Hironaka said. "Hopefully we can grab some chemistry as we go. We are young and inexperienced."

Hironaka is in his seventh season coaching with a record of 115-57. In the 2005-2006 season, the Falcons won 26 games and advanced to the national semifinals. They won back-to-back Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) championships in 2006 and 2007. Hironaka was twice voted GNAC coach of the year and was the 2006 National Association of Basketball Coaches West Region coach of the year. Hironaka led the Falcons into four straight National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournaments.

Last year, the Falcons finished third in the GNAC (21-8 overall and 12-6 in conference).

They ended thei season in a devastating loss to the University of Alaska, Anchorage (UAA) in the NCAA Division II Men’s Basketball West Region Championships. UAA made two free throws with 1.7 seconds left.

With the lack of seniors on this season’s team, the Falcons look to youth for a spark.

In their three preseason games thus far, red-shirt freshman forward Chauncey Campanaro and sophomore guard Jeff Downs are both averaging 10 points per game.

Six-foot 9-inch center Rafael Moreira of Brazil looks to step in as the team’s starting center, replacing Will from last season.

But with young talent comes hardships, Hironaka said. The Falcons enter their first regular season game without a single win (0-3).

Their preseason schedule included trips to the University of California, Stanford University and Saint Mary’s University.

The Falcons lost 70-91 against the California Golden Bears.

Junior forward Rob Diederichs hit a three-pointer to draw SPU within 49-47 with 18:15 left. The Golden Bears responded with a 22-7 run.

Moreira and sophomore guard Chris Banchero led the Falcons with 13 points apiece.

The Falcons then traveled to Stanford and lost 56-97. Banchero drew the Falcons within five points on a layup with 12:14 left in the first half. Stanford went on a 10-2 run to take a 30-17 lead with 8:20 left.

The Falcons finished their preseason at Saint Mary’s. SPU scored once in the first seven minutes and quickly went down 3-14 and then 19-42 at halftime before losing 55-86. Reed led with 13 points on six-of-11 shooting. Downs added 11 points.

In the last five years, SPU has lobbied to play Division I teams during exhibition and regular season.

"We had good moments, but not enough good moments," Hironaka said. "Our good moments were less than our bad moments. At times during the games we did things well, and at times we didn’t do things well."

"Teams like that (Pac-10) can expose your weaknesses," he said. "We’ve got a lot to work on."

The Falcons have a tough schedule ahead. The Falcons already played three Division I, Pacific-10 Conference teams in exhibition, but they travel to Corvallis, Ore., to play Oregon State University during the regular season on Dec. 16. The Falcons also play Division I Southern Utah University Nov. 25 in Cedar City, Utah.

Hironaka knows that, to be successful, his team will have to play up to their potential all year.

"We’ve got to be able to execute better and play better together," Hironaka said. "We’re playing like were young. We’re a little antsy to make plays. The young guys are not disciplined enough. They’re trying to do too much. They need to work on handling the pressure in big time situations."

SPU will start their regular season against University of Mary in the Sodexo Tip-Off Classic at Royal Brougham Pavilion Friday night at 7 p.m.

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Title: Hironaka looks to young squad | Author: David Tristano | Section: Sports | Published Date: 2008-11-19 | Internal ID: 5912