SAN ANTONIO (Nov. 5, 2018) – Even though the Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU) men's basketball team is celebrating its 10th anniversary season this year, an argument could easily be made for referring to this year as its second inaugural season…or perhaps a rebuilding season would be more accurate.
In August of this year, the university hired a brand-new coaching staff, plus the Saints return just three returners, none of whom were starters, making this year a definite rebuilding season.
New Head Coach Chris Dial is no stranger to OLLU. He is the founder of an integral partner of OLLU - The Basketball Embassy (TBE), a multinational, nonprofit organization that builds community through basketball and assists National Basketball Federations as well as other organizations in their quest to grow and develop the game of basketball in their country or region. Dial established TBE in 2014 as a way to promote a fundamental brand of basketball intertwined with intangible elements like dedication, hard work, integrity and education in an effort to produce ambassadors of the game. Through the TBE, Dial has partnered with OLLU since 2016 to host Assembly 2018, a weeklong event that brings elite youth female and male athletes ages 15-17 to campus. Campers are specially invited with the majority being international student-athletes and about 60 from the United States. Aside from on-court practice and training sessions, the campers are given the opportunity to be seen by many NCAA, NAIA and junior college coaches.
Joining Dial before the fall semester began was new Assistant Coach Dustin Karrer. Subsequently, Dial added two more to his coaching staff – Aaron Tavitas and BJ Alzaid – all three are from the San Antonio area. Dial said he's fortunate to have such an experienced coaching staff, one that is destined for success.
"I've got three coaches on staff, aside from myself, all with tons of experience. Dustin has been a head coach in Europe for a professional team, he's assisted me with national teams, so he's going to be very vocal on the court."
Karrer worked with Dial at TBE domestically as well as abroad in Kosovo, Romania, Turkey, Bulgaria and Macedonia. There he helped establish a youth national team program in Kosovo, FIBA's 215th member country. He also was head coach of a men's senior team in the first division of the Kosovo Super League.
"Aaron Tavitas has been a head coach in college before; he's a long-time name in this community; he's done a ton with youth basketball so he brings in a great amount of experience as well," Dial commented.
Tavitas spent two seasons as the women's basketball head coach at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas, where he led his squad to the most wins in four years.
Tavitas coached at his alma mater, St. Gerard High School in San Antonio, where he first worked with Dial. He also was head coach and assistant coordinator of student leadership at San Antonio College (SAC).
"BJ Alzaid was an assistant in Austin for a number of years for a very successful division three program," Dial said. "He will be our coordinator for recruiting. He's got a great relationship with a ton of coaches in the state and out of state, and he knows a lot of players, who are up and coming, so he's giving us a lot of access to potential great student athletes for OLLU."
Alzaid had great success at NCAA Division III Concordia University – Texas, where he spent almost a decade with the Tornadoes helping them through much success.
Dial stated, "Our [coaching staff] expectations are to compete and to get better every day. We just want to put a good product on the floor that will represent the university on the court and off the court."
The Red River Athletic Conference (RRAC) released its Men's Basketball Coaches' Preseason Poll in October, and the Saints received their lowest ranking ever – No. 6. Atop the poll is LSU-Alexandria (14-4/29-8), followed by LSU-Shreveport (15-3/30-4), Wiley College (7-11/9-21), Huston-Tillotson University (7-11/9-15), the University of St. Thomas (8-10/16-12). OLLU was the last pick in the poll after finishing last year with a conference record of 13-5 and 24-12 overall.
Other conference opponents not ranked are the University of the Southwest (8-10/13-19), Texas College (4-14/10-19) and Jarvis Christian College (7-20/4-14).
"Our conference is tough," Dial commented. "It's one of the toughest in the nation, and it's probably improved this year. It's difficult to project where a brand-new team with a brand-new staff is going to finish among a group of teams that are already well established, so our goal is to compete to the point to put ourselves into a situation to make it into the tournament. It will be a challenge, but at the same time, it is a little different. We just need to step up."
Joseph played in 34 games last season and averaged 9.3 minutes per game. He was 19-52 from the field and 25-36 from 3-point range. He tallied 49 rebounds, 17 assists, nine steals and 66 points. He scored a high of 11 points last year against Paul Quinn
Otis played in 33 games, averaging 9.7 minutes per game. He went 26-49 from the field and tallied 80 rebounds for an average of 2.4 rpg., and he added 14 blocks. He scored a high of 10 points against Northern New Mexico last year.
Mucha played in 27 games and averaged 5.2 minutes per game. He went 17-38 from 3-point range and 7-8 from the free-throw line. He scored a high of 12 points against Southwest last season.
"They've been here, and their biggest value initially has been to help the new guys assimilate into the student-life culture. They've been a great help to the staff as well as far as guiding us to show us where things are and who we need to speak to. But I expect them to take on more of a leadership role, and I hope they help the other guys adapt to Our Lady of the Lake."
"We are excited about the group we have. We have quite a few very talented freshmen, who are going to be really good career players here. Normally this would be a truly developmental year for them, but we are going to need them to play right away."
Hood comes to OLLU from San Antonio Holmes, where he was named the most improved senior and earned second-team academic all-district.
Thomas is a native of Mesquite, Texas, where he attended Roosevelt High School. He was the 4A Newcomer of the Year, and he guided his team to a top five finish in the state. He was top 10 in the state in assists and top 20 in scoring.
Woodington is also a San Antonio native, where he attended Brennan High School. He earned second-team all-district and was his school's scoring MVP.
One of the transfer students, who has really stepped up is sophomore Ethan White, who played at Dial's alma mater East Central High School. "He's going to be a really good piece for us this year, and we are excited to have him. He's a terrific student and a great young man."
At Lamar State, White averaged 8.1 ppg., and 3.0 rpg. At East Central, he averaged 17.3 ppg., and 5.4 rpg.
Sophomore Darin Minniefield came to OLLU from Houston, and Dial said he would be running the point. "He's proving to be that extra coach for us on the floor doing a lot of those intangible things that we are asking him to do."
Minniefield transferred to OLLU from Peru State, an NAIA school in Nebraska.
Dial also cited another player from Houston, Lennox Jones Jr. "He's an extremely talented young man who's having to adapt to a different role, but he's taking it in stride, and we are expecting great things from him."
Jones is a junior transfer from Coastal Bend College, where he received Team Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2016-2017. At Bellaire High School in Houston, Jones was the District 24-5A MVP. He led his team in steals and assists.
Rounding out the squad
Sophomores include Cameron Fields and Christian Fields out of Kerrville Tivy and transfers from Howard College; Carlson Goode from Columbia, S.C., and transfer from Dallas Christian College; Amiel Lewis from Houston Chavez High School and transfer from Central College; and Hyking Brisbon from Philadelphia Nueva Esperanza High School and transfer from Copper Mountain College. The team also features junior Michael Saladin from Beaumont, Texas, who transferred from Houston Baptist University
Dial was optimistic for transfer Calvin Kintu, a native of London, England, who came to OLLU from Western Wyoming. The junior played for the Great Britain National Team and his high school was the national champion in Great Britain. "At the beginning of the fall, during practice, he came down awkwardly on his knee and tore his ACL. He's going to be out this year, so we are just going to try to nurture him this year. He will focus on his studies and become a superior student, and once he's healthy, we will welcome him back with open arms."
The Saints will begin their season in New Orleans on Nov. 5 at Southern University at New Orleans (first matchup against the two teams). They will play exhibitions against NCAA D1 Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi (OLLU 0-TAMUCC 4) on Nov. 9, and NCAA D2 Texas A&M University – Commerce (first matchup) on Nov. 13. The team will continue through November with games at Texas Wesleyan University (OLLU 5-TWU 6) in Fort Worth, Barclay College (first matchup) in Haviland, Kan., and Oklahoma Panhandle State University (first matchup) in Goodwell, Okla.
The men will participate in the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma (USAO) Tournament on Nov. 23-24 in Chickasha, Okla. They will first play USAO (OLLU 2-USAO 2) on Friday and then on Saturday, they will face Southwestern Christian University (OLLU 0-SCU 1).
The Saints will play an exhibition at NCAA D2 and San Antonio West Side neighbor St. Mary's University on Nov. 26. This game will be their first matchup since 2010, when the Rattlers defeated the Saints 81-74.
The men will close out November with an exhibition game in Odessa against NCAA D1 University of Texas of the Permian Basin (first matchup) in Odessa, Texas, on Nov. 28.
On Dec. 1 and Dec. 2, the Saints will travel to Espanola, N.M., for two games against Northern New Mexico College (OLLU 1-NNMC 2).
The Saints will then open their conference schedule on Dec. 6 on the road against Paul Quinn College (OLLU 17-PQC 1) and on Dec. 8 against Texas College (OLLU 15-TC 4). They will play their first home games on Dec. 13 and Dec. 15 against RRAC opponents' University of St. Thomas (OLLU 14-UST 5) and Huston-Tillotson University (OLLU 17-HTU 1).
The new year will begin with two home conference matches on Jan. 3 against LSU-Alexandria (OLLU 2-LSUA 8) and on Jan. 5 against LSU-Shreveport (OLLU 9-LSUS 10). The Saints will play three consecutive away games beginning on Jan. 12 against the University of the Southwest (OLLU 17-USW 3) in Hobbs, N.M., on Jan. 17 against Wiley College (OLLU 15-WC 6) in Marshall, Texas, and on Jan. 19 against Jarvis Christian College (OLLU 16-JCC 3) in Hawkins, Texas.
The Saints will move on to their second round of conference games at home on Jan. 24 against Paul Quinn and on Jan. 26 against Texas College. They will close out January with a conference game against the University of St. Thomas on Jan. 31. From Feb. 2-9, they will be on the road for games against Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas, LSU-Alexandria in Alexandria, La., and LSU-Shreveport in Shreveport, La.
The men will conclude the regular season with three consecutive home games. Beginning on Feb. 16, they will play Southwest, on Feb. 21, Jarvis and Feb. 23, Wiley.
The RRAC tournament will take place at LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas, March 7-9, with Wiley College hosting. Six teams will qualify for the tournament, with first rounds played between the third and sixth seeds and the fourth and fifth seeds. The semifinals match will be next with the winners of the first round against the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds. On the last day of the tournament, the championship match will be held.
The RRAC champion receives an automatic bid to the NAIA National Championship Tournament. The tournament will begin March 20 and conclude on March 26 in Kansas City, Mo.
The Saints have qualified for the conference tournament every year since their inaugural season in 2009-2010. In 2012 and 2015, they were tournament runners-up. The team also has made three trips to the national tournament, twice reaching the round of 16 (2012 and 2015) and twice, the round of eight (2016 and 2018).
Through the Basketball Embassy, Dial has recognized the importance of giving back to the community and he has brought that commitment to OLLU and his squad.
"I think the biggest thing we can do as a staff and a new team is to impact the community as positively as possible. Our guys have been making frequent trips to places like Haven for Hope and SAMM Ministries to work with kids on the basketball court using basketball as sort of a vehicle to impress positively upon those kids."
Dial said he has a schedule set up during the season and after in terms of having the men going to read to children at different local shelters and youth outreach centers. He is also working with S.A. Youth by integrating his team men into their youth communities to serve as positive role models. They'll also be working the Boys and Girls Clubs, Positive Coaching Alliance and YMCA.
This plan fits in well with the NAIA's important initiative Champions of Character program, which promotes the values of integrity, respect, responsibility, sportsmanship and servant leadership. The Champions of Character program aims to change the culture of sport. Research shows that the longer a student spends in sports, their social reasoning – sacrificing for the good of the team – rises.
"There are a lot of things that our guys are going to have their hands in, and were hoping that by doing this it will not only serve the community but us as well. It will be a great experience for our guys. This is going to be a big focus for us this year."
Dial went on to explain that he wants to be able to continue the success the men's basketball team has had on the court throughout the last decade, but he feels community service is important as well. "Yes we want to win a bunch of games and make it into the conference tournament, but I think defining [success], especially at a place like Our Lady of the Lake, has to include your impact locally in the community and in the people you serve."
Reaching out to alumni
Adding to an increase in community service, the Saints under Dial have also started its outreach to alumni this past October – something he plans to continue every year. When Dial arrived at OLLU, he set as one of his priorities to form relationships with all the men who have played on the team from the inaugural season in 2009 through this past spring in 2018. He kept his promise and hosted the alumni for a scrimmage and a mixer on Oct. 21. Eleven former members attended the game, including inaugural players Robert Martinez (2009-2013) and Eddie Ortiz (2009-2013), both of whom played for the Saints for four years. Martinez was the first player to sign for the team, and he had a great collegiate career that included NAIA All-American honors and membership in the Saints 1,000 Point Club (he's actually the team's all-time scorer with 1,963 points scored). He currently plays for the El Savador National Team. He indicate he plans to return to OLLU to finish out his one semester left to graduate. Ortiz was also a member of the Saints 1,000 Point Club and earned scholar athlete recognition throughout his four years.
Others attending alumni weekend were Darion Brown (2014-2018) (All-Conference, Saints 1,000 Point Club, Scholar Athlete), Mike Brown (2011-2013), Marcel Campos (2011-2013) (NABC Honors Court, Scholar Athlete), Brandell Collins (2015-2018) (Scholar Athlete), PJ Escobar (2016-2018) (All-Conference), De'Quentin Greer (2013-2015) (All-Conference), Jeremy Hines (2013-2015) (All-Conference), Joe Jackson (2011-2013) (NAIA All-American, All-Conference, Saints 1,000 Point Club) and Josh Orta (2011-2012) (NAIA Player of the Week, All-Conference).
Having the alumni here, according to Dial, was "the single most impressionable experience that I have had at Our Lady of the Lake other than the initial acceptance of the position because to me that is a really important component.
"It's hard to find shortcomings of a really successful program, but to me, I felt that was what was missing. Now we have done it once with the support of the university. The guys were so excited about being here. They are so important to our current culture and to the future and the kind of culture that we are trying to build. I want them to not just feel welcome but to play an active role in what this program is going to look like 10 years from now.
"We had a lot of fun [with the alumni]. They are a really talented group; most of them can play and would be all-conference players right now. It was enjoyable to visit with them and their families after the game. We are looking forward to next year, making it a little bit bigger and wider in scope. A great measure of a program is alumni involvement, and I think this is something we can definitely do better to move forward."
Message to Saints fans
Dial invites Saints fans to come out to watch his team play as they've done in the past. "Historically, this has been a tough place for opponents to come and win, and that is because of the student body, the faculty, the staff, the administration and this community being present in our gymnasium. Our hope is that they continue to show that support and our hope is that they are patient with us in that process. They are really that extra teammate. I know our young men will feed off that. They will see some very good basketball and they'll be able to see the progression of the team as we approach postseason."
Dial is excited for the season. Having spent a great amount of town abroad, he said, "This will be the first time in a while that I will have two feet on the sideline in the United States of America, so I'm excited about hearing our National Anthem before the game, and I'm excited about communicating with referees in English. It will be fun."
The Saints will return in-game announcer "Voice of the Saints" Rudy Rubio, for his second season. Michael Thompson, the livestreaming "Voice of the Saints," will return to call all home games.
Men's basketball will have nine home games and if purchasing each of the nine games separately, the price would be $71.55. The OLLU Season Pass will be available for $56.
Women's basketball will have 12 home games, plus two neutral games. Fans can purchase just the games that OLLU will play for a discounted price of $80. If viewers would like to add the neutral games, the price would be $96. If the desire to purchase just the tournament games (Nov. 23-24), the price is $25 - a $6.80 discount.
A basketball bundle can be purchased for men's and women's home games including the tournament games for $142 ($10 discount). A basketball bundle not including the neutral games of the tournament will be available for $126 ($10 discount).
Admission charge for all home games are $5 for adults, $3 for children, 7-17, and free for those younger than seven. Adult season pass can be purchased for $40, and a pass for a child is $20. A family pack of four can be purchased for $100.
Stay up-to-date with the Saints on social media by utilizing #OLLUHoops.