Sac State men’s basketball team looks to build upon last season’s success

Hornets return 11 players and four starters for 2019-20 season

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Sac State men’s basketball team looks to build upon last season’s success

From left, Sac State men's basketball seniors, guard Izayah Mauriohooho-Le'afa and center Joshua Patton, pose for a photo Monday, Nov. 4 at The Nest. The men's basketball team had a 15-16 record in the 2018-19 season.

From left, Sac State men's basketball seniors, guard Izayah Mauriohooho-Le'afa and center Joshua Patton, pose for a photo Monday, Nov. 4 at The Nest. The men's basketball team had a 15-16 record in the 2018-19 season.

Eucario Calderon

From left, Sac State men's basketball seniors, guard Izayah Mauriohooho-Le'afa and center Joshua Patton, pose for a photo Monday, Nov. 4 at The Nest. The men's basketball team had a 15-16 record in the 2018-19 season.

Eucario Calderon

Eucario Calderon

From left, Sac State men's basketball seniors, guard Izayah Mauriohooho-Le'afa and center Joshua Patton, pose for a photo Monday, Nov. 4 at The Nest. The men's basketball team had a 15-16 record in the 2018-19 season.

The 2019-20 Sacramento State men’s basketball team will begin regular season play Friday following a 2018-19 season which ended with the second most wins in program history.

Despite this success, the Hornets finished last season in eighth place in the 11-team Big Sky Conference. Sac State has 11 players returning from the 2018-19 roster, four of which were in last season’s starting lineup. Most of the returning players are upperclassmen, as four are seniors and four are juniors.

Head coach Brian Katz begins his 12th season at Sac State. Katz, the second-longest tenured coach and winningest coach in Division I program history, believes his returning players will have a significant role this season, not only helping to add to his 126 career wins at Sac State but also helping to improve upon the team’s 15 wins from last season.  

“The key to this level is experience,” Katz said. “We have 11 guys back, so with the experience that we have, that’s the first thing that’s going to help win games this year.”  

Sac State men’s basketball head coach Brian Katz instructs his players during practice Monday, Nov. 4 at The Nest. Katz is returning for his 12th season with the team.

The veteran core that returns will also look to help the Hornets finish and close out games better than they did last season. Sac State finished 4-7 last season in games decided by six points or less. The Hornets held leads in the final minutes of six of the seven losses.  

“We didn’t really close games out too well last season,” Katz said. “We really honestly feel like we could have won easily 18,19, 20 (games), so (we) gotta close em’ out.”

Of the 11 returners, two players contributed heavily to last season’s success. Seniors Joshua Patton and Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’afa step back on the court as team captains for their final season at Sac State, looking to add to their Hornet legacy.  

The team’s leading scorer in 2018-19 Marcus Graves, departs from the program after completing his final season of eligibility at Sac State. Graves averaged 17 points per game while also leading the team in assists, steals, free-throw shooting percentage and three-point shooting percentage. 

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The former Hornet was a 2018 All-Big Sky Conference second-team selection and was drafted 17th overall in the first round of this year’s NBA G League draft by the Stockton Kings. 

Patton, a 6-foot 8-inch 230-pound center, started all 31 games for the Hornets last season and is entering his fifth season as a member of the team. Patton played in all 94 games during his Sac State career and started in 63 straight games coming into this season. 

Eucario Calderon
Sac State senior center Joshua Patton prepares to shoot during practice Monday, Nov. 4 at The Nest. Patton averaged 13 points, 6.4 rebounds, 0.7 steals, 1.6 blocked shots and 28.9 minutes per game in the 2018-19 season.

The senior averaged 13 points and 6 rebounds per game last season and earned third-team All-Big Sky honors. He was also the only center in Big Sky to be named to an all-conference team.

RELATED: Sac State’s high-flying center stays grounded with long walks

Patton finished ranked in the top ten in many Big Sky individual statistical categories last season, including second in field goal percentage, third in blocked shots and ninth in rebounding.

Mauriohooho-Le’afa, a 6-foot 2-inch guard, started in 26 games last season and enters his fourth season as a Hornet. The senior averaged 9 points per game, finished fourth in Big Sky for steals per game with 1.5 and made a team-high 53 three pointers last season.  

Both Patton and Mauriohooho-Le’afa emphasized the importance of building rapport with teammates early and focusing on teamwork. 

“Every day we’re trying to just work hard and get extra work done in the gym,” Mauriohooho-Le’afa said. “Putting up extra shots and doing whatever else the coaches want us to do matters. Then we need to bond as a team and make sure our culture is good on and off the court.”

Eucario Calderon
Sac State senior guard Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’afa goes in for a layup during practice Monday, Nov. 4 at The Nest. Mauriohooho-Le’afa was a finalist for Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year in the 2018-19 season.

Mauriohooho-Le’afa added that individual success this season will be a byproduct of the team’s overall success.  

Sac State is slated to compete in 29 games for the 2019-20 season. The Hornets will host 14 home games and travel for 14 road games, while also playing one neutral site game at the Golden 1 Center for their annual matchup against the University of California, Davis.   

Since the start of the 2012-13 season, Katz has powered the Hornets to a 67-30 record at home, including winning nine of 14 games played at The Nest last season. The experienced coach knows a winning season starts with protecting home court.

“I think we really have to win our home games,” Katz said. “We lost some home games last season I thought we should have won. I think in this league it’s really hard to win on the road, so you gotta win your home games.”

20 of the 29 total games will take place during Big Sky play. Last season, the Hornets finished conference play with an 8-12 record.

RELATED: Sac State alumnus Cody Demps plans to return to NBA

The Hornets have been able to win a conference tournament game in four of the past five seasons. Prior to its current five-season stretch, Sac State won just two conference tournament games in 18 years in the Big Sky.

“We’re working to stay healthy and get better every day,” Mauriohooho-Le’afa said. “Once the conference tournament comes, we want to be at full go and be ready.”  

Winning the Big Sky tournament is unprecedented for the Sac State basketball program. 

The elusive feat also provides the only avenue for the Hornets to reach their ultimate goal of playing in the NCAA tournament. Although the goal seems lofty, Katz is not afraid to admit his desire of achieving it.  

“We don’t have any problem saying that we want to do that,” Katz said. “We want to win that (conference) tournament at the end of the year and go to the NCAA tournament. That’s our goal, always has been and always will be.”

The Hornets begin the 2019-20 season Friday at home against Simpson University with tip-off scheduled for 7:05 p.m.

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