An Idaho Vandals team that was going to be light on experience in the best of circumstances has the additional challenge of managing the loss of its best returning player to a career-ending illness.
Nate Sherwood, a 6-foot-8 forward who averaged 9.5 points and 4.7 rebounds per game last season and who earned a permanent place in Vandals lore by tapping in an overtime buzzer-beating game winner against top-ranked Montana in the Kibbie Dome, will miss his senior season after being diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis.
“It’s going to take a miracle for him to be able to participate his senior year,” coach Don Verlin said.
Sherwood will probably fill the role of student assistant coach that Perrion Callendret did last year after suffering a season-ending knee injury.
Junior guard Trevon Allen is the only other returner with any significant experience. He was a regular off the bench for the Vandals who averaged 4.2 points and 1.5 assists per game.
Idaho goes from being one of the top five most experienced teams in the country a year ago to one of the five least experienced at the start of this season, according to Verlin.
“Leadership is a work in progress,” he said.
Idaho will also be simpler on both offense and defense.
“We had everything in you could possibly have in the last couple of years. We’re going to be scaled down a little bit,” Verlin said
He sees Montana as the overwhelming conference favorite, closely followed by Weber State.
“From that point on, anybody has a chance,” he said.
Allen is being counted on heavily.
“I really challenged Trevon this season. I told him this is the reason I recruited him,” Verlin said.
Sophomore Geno West, 6-2, appeared in 10 games as a freshman and recorded a season-high five points against Washington State. Freshman Rayquawndis Mitchell has stood out in preseason practices, and Oregon State sophomore transfer Xavier Smith “gives us a little depth and an ability to drive the ball,” Verlin said.
With Sherwood out, 6-9 sophomore Scott Blakney is the most experienced Vandals big man after playing in 16 games as a freshman. He has made good progression from his first to second year, Verlin said. At 6-9, Cassius Smits-Francisco redshirted as a freshman last year to rehabilitate a knee injury.
“He’s fit, and he’s done a nice job in our scrimmages to this point,” Verlin said.
Freshman Khadim Samb, 6-8, is another option at forward, and junior college transfer Marquell Fraser, 6-4, is a swing player who can help at both guard and forward.
Verlin is joined on the Idaho bench again this season by assistants Tim Murphy, Kirk Earlywine and Zac Claus. Brooks Malm returns for a third season as director of operations.
Subscribe to The Spokesman-Review’s sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.