2008-09 Team Capsules
The OVC champions are all about 3's, ball control and forced turnovers, but they lost three key backcourt contributors to the cap and gown. This year's version will feature a young and retooled guard group, highlighted by Justin Blake
, a 6-2 local product who should contribute right away at the two. Also watch for burgeoning point guards Tyrone Caldwell
and James Harris
, who should both see significant playing time for the new Gov generation.
Charleston winters have been extra-cold for Panther fans lately -- no winning seasons since the 2000-01 squad that made the NCAA's, and nary an appearance in the OVC's eight-team tourney since 2005. And with the loss of three seniors and over 20 points of production, an improvement over last year's 7-22 (6-14 OVC) season would seem unlikely. But Mike Miller is putting a lot of faith in newcomer Will Hamilton
, a 6-3 shooting guard from Indiana who can shoot well off the dribble.
Seven has turned into a very unlucky number for Jeff Neubauer's team. A seven-game drop to 14-16 followed the seven-game improvement that enabled a 2007 OVC title. EKU also lost seven home games, most since the 2000-01 season. Then starting point guard Adam Leonard (11.9 ppg) transferred to Missouri State after his sophomore season. The Colonels hope late juco transfer Dayvon Ellis
will be able to handle running Neubauer's West Virginia-style spread offense.
A 7-22 (5-15 OVC) season led to a farewell handshake for head coach Mike LaPlante, and turnaround artist James Green takes over. Green led Mississippi Valley State to the SWAC championship in March two years after a 9-19 finish, and Gamecock fans hope he can work similar magic in the shadow of Alabama's Choccolocco Mountain. There's some young talent to work with, like returning leading scorer Nick Murphy
(13 ppg, 5.7 rpg), a 6-4 sophomore, and raw 6-10 junior giant Amadou Mbodji
(team-high 5.9 rpg).
In their attempt to move higher on the OVC ladder, the Eagles are importing 6-8 Devon Carter
from Georgia. The freshman PF, rated by Scouts Inc. as the top big-man prospect of any incoming OVC class, leads a seven-man influx of newcomers. Carter will mix with key frontcourt returnees such as 6-5 senior Leon Buchanan
(13.2 ppg) and 6-8 sophomore Kenneth Faried
(10.5 ppg, team-leading 8.0 rpg) to form the league's best forward corps.
Last year's Racers took a step towards reasserting themselves as the power that's won seven league titles in 12 years, turning the Regional Special Event Center back into a not-so-special place for visitors. But the 14-2 home record was offset by a road mark of 4-9, Murray's worst in a decade. With the loss of leading scorer and rebounder Bruce Carter
(14.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg), the two returning double-figure guards (Danero Thomas
and Tyler Holloway
) will jump into leadership roles as newly-minted upperclassmen.
SE Missouri State
SEMO will try to put last season's stunning late collapse behind it, but two double-figure point producers are in the rearview mirror too: Roderick Pearson
and Brandon Foust
(combined 21.8 ppg). Jaycen Herring
(13.1 ppg), a 6-5 former Chattanooga transfer, shot 50.6 percent from the floor in 2007-08 and will return for a senior season. An intriguing Redhawk prospect with instant-impact potential is Stuart Pirri
, a 6-8, 175-lb. small forward who hails from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Former Tiger Bruce Price always had his sights set high, that's for sure. The playmaker "tested the waters" last summer despite not having played for a year and a half, due to a torn ACL and injured knee. As a junior in 2007-08, he was TSU's top scorer at 17.6 ppg and led his team to the doorstep of the NCAA tournament. But with a year of eligibility remaining, he declared he was leaving school to turn pro. Price was not selected in June's NBA Draft.
Despite a 10-10 record in the OVC, the Golden Eagles were the best rebounding team in the league with 34.4 per game. And while they lose the highly productive inside-outside duo of Anthony Fisher
and Amadi McKenzie
(combined 31.6 ppg), 6-9 glass-cleaner Daniel Northern
(12.8 ppg, 9.3 rpg) will be returning as a senior. Coach Mike Sutton hopes to build a new backcourt with freshmen Zach Bailey
and Kevin Murphy
, imported from the deep South.
The Skyhawks struck juco gold when they acquired all-everything Lester Hudson
, and they hope they've done so again with Dominique Mpondo
, a Cameroonian by way of France and Eastern Oklahoma State College. Already a minor YouTube star for his shot-blocking prowess, he stands 6-10, weighs 240 lbs., and will have two years of eligibility remaining.