The 2011-12 men's basketball season will be a mix of old and new for Spring Hill College Head Coach Robert Thompson. On one hand, his team welcomes back seven returning players from last season, but on the other hand he must work in 10 new faces and rebuild after a disappointing 9-18 record in the 2010-11 season.
"You could look at last season and not see many positives," Thompson says. "But at the end of almost every game we were in range of winning and just didn't get over the hump." Instead of looking at the negatives, Thompson prefers to see the benefits of the lessons learned. "We were forced to use several players for a lot of minutes who probably would not have gotten that experience if we had a full roster, so that means we'll be even deeper this year," he says.
Thompson's veteran players include senior point guard Tyler Schwab of Panama City, Fla., who handed out 102 assists and scored 7.1 points per game last season and senior guard Steve Edwards of Newton, Miss., who averaged 8.6 points per night. Guard Charles Gordon of Birmingham, Ala., (7.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg), center Blake Taylor of Jackson, Ala., and forward Alex Looney from Mobile's Murphy High School were all freshmen who saw significant playing time last year and should continue to be important cogs in the Badger machine this year.
Senior guard Stephen Burches of Hammond, La., averaged 9.0 points per game before sitting out the spring semester. His return should give a needed boost to the offense along with the addition of sophomore guard Todd Martin who transferred from the University of South Alabama. "Stephen's return is a key to this season and Todd brings back a perimeter game that was missing last year," says Thompson. "Todd makes other teams respect us on the perimeter and opens up the inside."
Newcomer junior Ricky Sears of Decatur, Ala., is a natural scorer according to Thompson. "Ricky will carry a load for us," says Thompson. "But he has the abilities to respond to the challenge."
At center, Thompson has been happy to see freshman Jake Thelan of Edgewood, Ky., emerge as the probable starter to replace graduated four-year starter Nick Brown. "Jake is an intelligent player with good hands. He comes from a terrific basketball family and his development has taken a lot of pressure off our team," says Thompson.
The post position is young, but very deep as Taylor and freshman Frederick Gatson of Riverdale, Ga., are quickly growing into the role. "Both Blake and Frederick are improving and will make a difference for us on the inside," Thompson says.
With a 17-man roster, Thompson does not see depth being a problem this season. "We will be 10 to 12 men deep this year," he says. "And that's a nice advantage." Transfer guards Kyle Watkins of Montgomery, Ala., and junior Brett Williams of Oviedo, Fla., bring added strength to the Badger bench while freshmen Halen Butler of Spring, Texas, Neal Apetrei from Madisonville, La., Ben Redman of Spanish Fort, Ala., John Deloach of Niceville, Fla., and Jayln Woods of Brookshire, Texas, look to gain experience during their first collegiate seasons.
The 2011-12 schedule should be a challenge for the Badgers as 15 of the first 21 contests will be on the road. "The schedule developed that way for two reasons," says Thompson. "First, it was just the way the conference rotation fell this year, but I also designed it that way because we have struggled on the road in the past few seasons and I wanted to work on fixing that problem. This year we will have the attitude that road games are business trips and not field trips."
Overall, Thompson is excited to get his team on the court. "We have good seniors who lead by example and their leadership is understood. Everyone understands their role on the team and in our system," he says. "We are deeper than before and we are an unselfish team that continues to progress every day. We have good players at every position who have formed a very good team."
The Badgers will open the 2011-12 season with an exhibition game at the University of South Alabama at 7:05 p.m. on Wednesday at the USA Mitchell Center. Spring Hill students with ID will receive free admission and SHC faculty and staff will receive a special $5 ticket price. Spring Hill opens the home slate with an exhibition game versus Selma University at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at the Arthur R. Outlaw Recreation Center.