As players on one of the youngest team’s in the Atlantic 10, two men’s basketball sophomores find themselves with new leadership positions and lofty expectations on their shoulders.
But guard Jair Bolden and forward Arnaldo Toro said they are ready to take on expanded roles this season. These roles, likely in the starting lineup, will require them to shift responsibilities, increase their workload and provide direction to the new members of the program.
“I am better prepared for this season than I was last year,” Toro said. “It’s definitely easier knowing how college basketball works, being able to play with experienced players. College play has definitely helped to improve my game.”
Both had notable rookie campaigns and often found their way into the starting five last season, but they did experience challenging stretches that are common among first-year players. Other than senior guard Yuta Watanabe, they are the only two players on the team to have started more than 10 games last season.
Head coach Maurice Joseph identified both Bolden and Toro as players he will count on to contribute significantly more than they did last year once the 2017-18 season gets underway Friday.
After playing alongside then-redshirt junior guard Jaren Sina – who announced he would forgo his final year of eligibility in March – and recording 4.8 points and 1.8 assists per game last year, Bolden will now likely take over the sole responsibility of starting at the point and directing the team on the floor. He will have to lead an up-tempo offense and be counted on offensively in the fast break while limiting turnovers.
Joseph said Bolden’s play will surprise people this year if they weren’t expecting extensive improvement. The guard scored 21 points in the team’s only public exhibition game against Fairmont State Saturday.
“The game has slowed down for him thus far in practice, which was the complete opposite this time last year. When he was a freshman, he was like a chicken with his head cut off,” Joseph said. “He came back in tremendous shape. He came back a better shooter, a better handler.”
Bolden said he knows both successes and mistakes will be highlighted now that he will play more of a featured role.
“I’m making sure I understand the importance of every single play,” Bolden said. “Every step is one step closer to a great season or a bad season.”
After a strong start to the season last year as a stretch four, Toro saw his minutes and production dwindle later in the season. He still finished with averages of 4.6 points and 4.3 rebounds per game.
“First I was a little bit nervous because having a big role as a freshman is not easy to do,” Toro said. “In the first half of the season I was doing good, second half of the season I wasn’t doing as good, so it was a really mental thing for me.”
In order to repeat his early-season success and increase his consistency, Toro said he has been working on several parts of his game during the offseason, especially his perimeter offense. Last year, he shot only 19 three-pointers, making six of them.
Last February and March, as the season progressed, Bolden became an everyday starter as Toro slipped to the second rotation. Bolden said the beginning of their on-court relationship has been successful because of their friendship off the court – as former roommates.
“I’m just getting used to playing with him a bit more,” Bolden said. “This year Arnaldo is taking a much bigger step in the lineup and we’re just starting to learn each other more and know where each other are on the court.”
Since GW’s roster features four new freshmen – multiple of whom Joseph said will get significant minutes – both Bolden and Toro both said they are ready to help educate the young team and lead by example.
“Just getting them to understand the pace of the game and that in high school you can get away with little mistakes here and there with your footwork and things like that,” Bolden said. “But at the next level every detail matters because guys are that much stronger, that much more athletic and that much taller.”