The Jeff Boals era has arrived.
When Ohio tips off against Capital for an exhibition Saturday at The Convo, the Bobcats will informally begin their first season under their 19th coach in program history.
Boals has already made his presence felt. With six true freshman and one of the youngest rosters in the country, the Bobcats will truly have a new look this season, and they’ll see how much room there is for improvement when they play their first game Saturday.
Here’s what Boals said about his new beginnings and what he expects to see against the Crusaders:
The Bobcats only have three players — Jordan Dartis, Conner Murrell and Ben Vander Plas — with two or more years of experience with Ohio.
With one of the most inexperienced rosters in the Mid-American Conference, Ohio needs as much practice as possible, and that’s unfortunately been stunted by a slew of injuries to begin the season. Vander Plas and freshman Ben Roderick have been two key players dealing with injuries throughout preseason practice, and the Bobcats likely won’t carry a full roster for their exhibition Saturday.
“We’ve been banged up a little bit, and it hasn’t allowed us to have the continuity we want,“ Boals said. “Guys are doing what they need to do to get back healthy.”
The injuries won’t help, but the Bobcats still have plenty to learn.
Boals knows that. Ohio is essentially in a rebuilding phase, and he’s OK with the frequent amount of mistakes the Bobcats will likely have throughout their season.
“The biggest thing is just coaching these guys and teaching them,“ Boals said. “These guys don’t have a normal freshman learning curve where they have time to make mistakes. We’re going to throw these guys to the wolves, and they’re going to be playing from Day 1. They’re going to make mistakes, but we want them to play through their mistakes.”
For Saturday, expect Ohio to give most of its new players time on the court.
“Obviously foul trouble will dictate it, and the score will dictate it a little bit,“ Boals said. “We’re going to give everyone a shot to get the jitters out and get game experience.”
On Ohio’s returning players
Of Ohio’s seven returning players from last season, three are set to likely see significant playing time under their new coach.
Dartis, Vander Plas and Jason Preston should all be locks to start the season if healthy. Dartis averaged 13.1 points per game before hip injuries forced him to redshirt last season. Vander Plas won MAC Freshman of the Year last season after averaging 8.6 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. Preston was solid as a freshman last season, too, and led Ohio with 3.4 assists per game while averaging six points per game.
Boals has appeared most excited about the growth of Preston, however, who’s added on 12 pounds since the start of last season and has been one of the best players in practice thus far.
Boals has proof of that, too. The coaching staff has implemented a scoring system known as the “Bobcat Standard,“ which tracks points accumulated by players for making good plays — assists, turnovers, rebounds, etc — and deducts points for poor plays.
Preston is at the top by a hefty margin.
“He’s been far and above,“ Boals said. “He’s been phenomenal for us for the first few weeks of practice. Our guys get into (the point system). We send it out every day to show them who’s No. 1 for that day, and it’s really competitive.”
Boals in the community
It’s been no secret the Boals has actively tried to promote the program through fun activities around Athens.
He’s served free coffee to students at Front Room Coffeehouse inside Baker Center. He’s bowled with Ohio women’s basketball coach Bob Boldon and other players from both programs. On Friday, he served burritos with Boldon from the Burrito Buggy on Union Street.
Boals has worked with the marketing department to plan activities he hopes will encourage more students to engage with the program, attend games and actively support the team.
“I basically told (the marketing department), I’ll do whatever,“ Boals said. “I think the biggest thing for me is to get engaged with our students. Really, this is their team. When they’re filling the student section, the place is rocking. We want to build that environment. It helps recruiting, it helps our team and it helps us win.”