Everything Eagles: Can men’s basketball bounce back?

As they head into their second year of PacWest play, Dave Holmquist and the Eagles hope for a big rebound after a rough season.


Austin Green, Managing Editor

This story was originally published in print on Nov. 1, 2018.

Ask anyone on campus what their top memory of last year’s men’s basketball season was, and their answer will likely be some variation of what happened on Feb. 3. Then-senior point guard Blake Shannon’s three-pointer with three seconds left to upset archrival Azusa Pacific University in the most anticipated Cornerstone Cup matchup of the year became an instant classic.

It also helped mask a disastrous beginning in the NCAA for one of Biola Athletics’ premier programs. Before that fateful night against APU, the Eagles had gone 2-13 against PacWest competition—including an 0-10 start.

Shannon’s heroics helped, but only slightly, as they went 2-4 in their last six games of the season. The Eagles finished with a 11-17 overall record, the team’s worst since their first year in the Golden State Athletic Conference all the way back in 1994-95.

There some reasons for hope in the near future. The main one sits in an office perched above the Chase Gymnasium court where he has paced the sideline for decades. He owns a .732 win percentage as Biola’s head coach and his 958 total wins make him one of just eight coaches across all of college basketball with at least 900.

He is also the man who led the Eagles to 11 straight top five finishes in the GSAC immediately following that ‘94-95 season, and eventually 20 in the Eagles’ 23 years there. It comes as little surprise, then, that Dave Holmquist does not mince words when talking about last year.

The legendary head coach said he had tempered expectations going into 2017-18, citing a recruiting stretch that “did not go well” and the loss of Steve Herve when a major leg injury forced the forward to redshirt what would have been his senior season. The Eagles were dealt another major blow midseason when junior forward Levi Auble suffered a season-ending injury on Jan. 13 against Concordia University Irvine. It all culminated in just the third losing season in Holmquist’s coaching career at Biola, which began in 1978.

“We knew it was gonna be a tough year whatever level we were at last year,” Holmquist said. “[But] it’s good experience…. I like the resilience of that group. We played some of our best basketball the last month and a half [of the season] even though we were somewhat depleted.”

Several key contributors from last season will return, including three starters—senior forward Alex Talma, senior guard Trevor Treinen and sophomore forward Michael Bagatourian. Forward Isaiah Jones, the 2017-18 PacWest Freshman of the Year, is no longer enrolled at Biola, but Herve is finally healthy and ready to take a starting spot in the frontcourt alongside Talma.

Those veterans would like nothing more than to make their rude welcome to the PacWest a distant memory.

“We’re really fired up to come back and have a winning season this year,” Talma said. “We have a really competitive group of guys and nobody wants to lose. Our approach to everything is just a little different, more focused and more competitive. Nobody wants to repeat last season.”

The main difference this year is at point guard, where Holmquist confirmed that redshirt freshman Alex Wright will begin the season as the starter. Wright is in his first year at Biola after transferring in from nearby powerhouse California Baptist University, and has already impressed his new coaching staff in preseason scrimmages.

“He’ll be a very fine player,” Holmquist said.

Holmquist is also excited about the “great mix” of young, raw talent and battle-tested, veteran leadership on his roster this year. The former group includes several other new transfers such as sophomore guards Erik Kinnebrew, Kiree Hutchings and Will Shannon—yes, Blake’s brother—hoping to work their way into Holmquist’s rotation in their first season as Eagles. The latter group, meanwhile, can set the tone for the new guys.

“We know each other’s games, we know each other’s strengths, and we can look for that when we’re playing on the court,” Talma said.

Still, it will be hard to completely overcome what was at times an obvious disparity on the court in just one season. The Eagles should improve over last year and the newly released PacWest preseason poll agrees, ranking them 7th out of 12 teams. It will still be a long climb to the top of a basketball-centric conference. As always, though, Holmquist is just taking it one day at a time.

“I never set a goal, I never have, of how many games we’re going to win,” Holmquist said. “We just want to do the things that will put us in a good position to be successful.”

That philosophy sounds so simple, but it has a long history of working. Just check the record books.

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