Coach Robinson moves forward with own team
Oregon State coach Craig Robinson is embarking on his fourth season with the Beavers, but the first that he can truly call the team his own.
All 13 players were brought in by Robinson, whose hiring at Oregon State made headlines because he is President Barack Obama's brother-in-law.
''I know how this works,'' Robinson said. ''This is year four. We should be making some huge steps in this year and the coming years. So I'm excited about that.''
By his own account, Robinson has reason to be excited. He told reporters at the team's annual media day earlier this month that Oregon State has the speed and athleticism this season to do things it hasn't done before. That means that the Beavers will play more man-to-man and less zone defense than they did last season, when the team went 11-20 overall and 5-13 in the Pac-10.
''I'm looking forward to coaching that,'' Robinson said about going man-to-man. ''On the offensive end, we'd like to speed it up a little bit. Again, because of our athleticism, because of our depth, we can try some things that we haven't done in the past.''
Junior guard Jared Cunningham led the Beavers last season with an average of 14.2 points per game. He broke Gary Payton's sophomore steals record with 85 and averaged 2.83 a game - best in the Pac-10 and fifth nationally.
The lone senior on the roster is 6-foot-9 forward Kevin McShane, who began his career as a walk-on and was awarded a scholarship by Robinson in April.
Nelson, who was drawn to Oregon State after seeing Robinson introduce his sister at the Democratic National Convention, was asked whether this season feels different from last.
''It does. You can tell by our chemistry. We're more like family now,'' Nelson said. ''Everybody is holding each other accountable. We're making sure each and every one of us is going hard.''
Cunningham, McShane and 6-foot-10 center Angus Brandt were named captains of the team.
The Beavers are not shy about their goal this season, which is to make the NCAA tournament. Oregon State hasn't received a bid to the tourney in 21 years, but that's where teams should set the bar if they want success, players said.
''That's what we all want, so we will see what happens and see how the cards fall,'' junior forward Joe Burton said.
Oregon State opens the season with three games at home against Cal State Bakersfield, West Alabama and Hofstra. Their first road trip will be to New Jersey for the Legends Classic, where they'll face Texas on Nov. 19. Vanderbilt, expected by many to be ranked in the top 10, and NC State are also playing in the tournament.
The Beavers close the season at Gill Coliseum against the Pac-12's newest members, Utah and Colorado.
Given the NBA lockout, Robinson expects college basketball and the Beavers to get some attention. It's up to the team to respond.
''Our goal is to make the NCAA tournament. That's what we're trying to do,'' Robinson said. ''And we know that's putting some pressure on us. ... But how we're handling it? We're becoming a more focused team.''