NEW ORLEANS, L.A. — After two weeks of preseason practice, Tulane Basketball held their annual Media Day at Avron B. Fogelman Arena in the Devlin Fieldhouse. Head Coach Mike Dunlevy took the podium to address members of the New Orleans media and answer questions. Tulane forward Samir Sehic and guard Caleb Daniels were also available to take questions after Coach Dunleavy’s time at the podium.
Tulane Media Day did not include an open practice for members of the New Orleans media, but there was still a lot for Tulane Head Coach Mike Dunleavy to talk about in regards to the previous and upcoming season. The topics included team depth, replacing Melvin Frazier Jr. and Cameron Reynolds, potential candidates for Tulane’s third straight AAC Most Improved Player, and the importance of defense.
The Green Wave will open the season with an exhibition game on Nov. 1 against Loyola New Orleans and then will compete in their first regular season game on Nov. 11 against Florida St. Both games will take place at Avron B. Fogelman Arena in the Devlin Fieldhouse
Dunleavy’s Deepest Team
The first thing that Coach Dunleavy mentioned when he stepped up to the podium was the amount of depth that he believes that this years team has.
“We have basically five new players this year in a sense. Three incoming freshmen and two freshmen that redshirted last year,” Dunleavy told the media on Wednesday. “I’m pleased with the way they are playing and integrating. It will be interesting to see when it comes to competition how much of a learning curve that may be involved. But overall, I’m really excited about that.”
“We have a good nucleus of guys coming back. Seniors Blake Paul and Jordan Cornish along with Samir Sehic and Caleb Daniels. Ray Ona Embo was my first recruit and is penciled in to be a three-year starter for us. So we think we have a good core of guys coming back. I feel like we’re going to have the deepest team we’ve had here since I’ve been at Tulane.”
Dunleavy would go on to say, “We had some really good wins last year and then we had some games that were tough to swallow. Some of those were games where we only played sometimes 7 guys and if some of those guys were having an off-night or got in foul trouble then we were a little bit at risk. I feel like the one thing we’re going to bring to this season that’s better than in any of our first 3 years is our depth. We could play 10 guys comfortably (this season). Everybody has a backup and ultimately what you do on the floor will decide how much time you get.”
While this may be the deepest team in Uptown so far during Dunleavy’s tenure, it will likely prove extremely difficult to replace Melvin Frazier Jr. and Cameron Reynolds as they are now continuing their careers in the NBA.
Replacing 31.0 PPG, 11.9 TRB, and 5.1 AST
Tulane saw it’s first player selected in the NBA Draft in 21 years when the Orlando Magic made Melvin Frazier Jr. the 35th overall pick in last year’s draft. When paired with the graduation of Cameron Reynolds, who scored 1,370 points in his career and is now playing for the Sacramento Kings, that loss takes a lot of production from last season’s team with it.
While many fans are predicting that sophomore guard Caleb Daniels to step up as Tulane’s primary scoring threat, Coach Dunleavy has a different opinion.
Dunleavy said, “I’ve had opportunities to see them [Frazier Jr. and Reynolds] play on TV and they both have had some impressive performances, and both of their teams like them very much. But having said that, it’s still a bunch of scoring, (our) one and two scorers on our team last year that we have to fill in and people still ask the question ‘How are you going to do that?’ And it’s going to be by committee. In the past, we’ve had some guys have some good jumps. My first year Cam Reynolds, went from six points a game to 17 points a game. Melvin [Frazier] in year two last year had about a five or six-point improvement and we have a couple guys on our team this year that could take that kind of significant jump, but overall, I think from a depth standpoint, we’re going to have a lot more guys, even kind of scoring across the board.”
A more balanced attack for the Tulane should prove beneficial to the Green Wave’s ability to persevere through those off-night and games with players in foul trouble from last season the Dunleavy mentioned.
Back-to-Back-to-Back AAC Most Improved Player?
As Dunleavy mentioned, both Cameron Reynolds and Melvin Frazier Jr. made great strides in their game since he arrived in New Orleans. These strides netted Reynolds the 2017 AAC Most Improved Player Award and Frazier Jr. the 2018 AAC Most Improved Player Award.
Coach Dunleavy was asked if he saw anyone on this year’s team who could take home the honor for the Green Wave’s for the third straight year. While Dunleavy did not make any guarantees, he had this to say about what players he sees making improvements.
“We’ve had the most improved player (award) in our league for two years in a row. I think that we have a couple candidates this year. Ray Ona Embo has been on the shelf a little bit with some patellar tendinitis. I mean, the way he was playing prior to sitting out some, he was playing extremely well. Caleb Daniels, I think he’s got the ability to have a big jump for us this year. Projecting, I think he will be one of our starters. Last year as a freshman, he shot 85 percent from the free throw line, and he can get there. And he shoots the ball. (He) shot like 39 percent from the 3-point line. Again, I think he’s got a chance to have a big jump. I think last year in our conference games, he averaged close to nine points, 10 points a game. That’s pretty good for a freshman, so our expectations are there. I think Samir [Sehic], the way he played for us last year, he could have another bump up.”
A jump in play from Ona Embo, Daniels, or Sehic would be huge for Tulane as they look to improve on last season’s 14-17 record and 10th place AAC finish.
Defense Wins Championships
Other than Melvin Frazier Jr., Tulane didn’t seem to put too much effort into their defense during the 2017-18 season. This led to a 14-17 record and the 221st defensive ranking in the country for the Green Wave. Coach Dunleavy has been working this offseason to make sure his players know that defense is the key to success.
Dunleavy admitted that defense was an area of much-needed improvement for the Wave saying, “The main thing for us improve is the consistency at the defensive end of the floor. Defend and rebound.”
Dunleavy often tells his players, “NBA-wise, nobody has won a championship in the NBA in probably the last probably 20-years if they haven’t been in the top-10 in defense in the league. So all those years where the Houston Rockets or Denver Nuggets are scoring like a gazillion points a game, well if they weren’t a top-10 (defensive team), I’m sitting there saying they have no chance. Last year you saw the Houston Rockets, they got to the top-5 in defense and they were knocking at the door. So again, for us, our point of emphasis all the time is the ability to defend. I feel like with our depth, we could have more consistency at the defensive end of the floor. We could be a better shot-blocking team and a better rebounding team. We have guys in place who are third-year guys that understand what we’re trying to do and how to do it and have been very good at trying to communicate those things to our younger players.”
Clearly, defense is going to be a high priority this year for a Green Wave team that finished 5th in the AAC in scoring in the 2017-18 season but 11th in defense.