Brian Katz has his guys. This is his team. Everyone on the 2012-13 Sacramento State men's basketball team was recruited by Katz, and he expects big things from the Hornets.
Sac State returns its top five scorers from a 10-18 team last season, and the program has improved its Big Sky Conference win total for three consecutive seasons. The 2011-12 squad went 5-3 in the second half on its way to a 5-11 conference record, posted its first double-figure win total in five years and shot 45.1 percent overall from the floor, the best of any Hornets team since Sac State started playing Division I basketball in 1991.
So there's much to be optimistic about for Katz's fifth campaign as the Hornets' leader.
"Each season, people ask me, 'Does Sac State have a chance to win the conference?' and I'd say, 'The big schools like Weber State are right there, and then (there's) everyone else,' " Katz said. "But this is the one year when I'll say that the (Big Sky) is wide open."
Finishing 5-3 in the second half of Big Sky play gave the Hornets a jump-start in confidence, Katz said.
He'll look to build off that finish with a core group of forward John Dickson, swingman Joe Eberhard, shooting guard Jackson Carbajal, center Konner Veteto (Placer High School) and point guard Dylan Garrity. They combined to average 51.7 points per game and will try to get the Hornets back to the Big Sky Conference tournament for the first time since the 2005-06 season.
Katz has nine guards, and he'll likely use most of them as he lets them loose in an up-tempo offense and counters with a pressure defense. If a player grabs at his shorts while gasping, Katz can turn to his deep bench.
"Garrity, Mikh McKinney and Julian Demalleville will likely get us going up top, and we will be pressing a lot more, that's for sure," Katz said. "We'll be playing faster than we ever have."
Katz said Eberhard and Garrity played too many minutes and wore down in the last few games last season. Eberhard averaged a conference-leading 35.7 minutes a game. Garrity was the Big Sky Freshman of the Year and received a "College Insider" Mid-Major Freshman All-America honor after finishing seventh in the nation with 6.9 assists per game.
The Hornets finished second in the conference in assists at 13.8 per game and averaged their most points (67.0) in five years. They averaged 73.4 points in the final nine games of the season.
Katz said Cody Demps, a true freshman from Pleasant Grove High School, could challenge for minutes. If he isn't starting, he'll likely be one of the first guards off the bench.
The frontcourt will be led by Eberhard and Dickson, both 6-6 forwards. Dickson led the team with 12.4 points a game last season. Eberhard was right behind him at 11.1 points.
Dickson a team co-captain with Eberhard, Garrity and Demalleville is a three-year starter who has never missed a game for the Hornets. He's 40 points shy of becoming the 10th player in school history to score 1,000 career points and the fifth since the university began Division I play.
Eberhard is versatile, having played all five positions last season, although small forward is his natural spot, Katz said.
Sac State will play 20 Big Sky Conference games this season because of the addition of North Dakota and Southern Utah. An early test will come Nov. 20, when the Hornets host UC Davis.