The Spring Hill College men's basketball team will open a new era this fall as head coach Aaron Niven takes over the reins of the program. So far, he has been pleased with what he's seen from his squad. "Things have been going very well in our preseason workouts," Niven says. "Our players want to be good and they are trying to be good. They are trying to get better and working hard at every practice. When you have a team with a high 'buy-in factor' to what the coach is trying to do you put yourself in a good spot and that's what we have."
Niven is installing a new offense and defense for the 2013-14 season and says his team has adapted well to the new system. "I'm pleasantly surprised at how our men have accepted what we're doing and how quickly they are picking it up," he says. "Our players understand the game to a high degree and it has not been as much of a struggle as I feared it would be."
The first-year head coach is especially impressed with the work his centers and forwards have been putting in. "This new system is hard on the big guys and puts a lot of the burden on them," says Niven. Senior center Andre Gowins of Gautier, Miss., and senior forward Alex Looney of Murphy High School in Mobile have been shouldering much of the early burden in the new system, but junior forwards Frederick Gatson of Riverdale, Ga., and Charles Gordon of Birmingham, Ala., have also been quick not only to accept, but also thrive, under Niven's plan. With the addition of redshirt freshman center Dejan Stefanovic from Paraćin, Serbia, freshman Sam Hutcheson of Hoover, Ala., and freshman forward Brendan Mooney of Longwood, Fla., Niven is confident that the middle of his offense and defense can handle the responsibility and pressure.
"One of the most exciting things about this year is that the system we are installing is tailor made for the style of play in the SSAC (Southern States Athletic Conference) and that's why we run it," Niven says. Sophomore point guards Ben Redman of Spanish Fort, Ala., and Jackson Fos of Abita Springs, La., return to make sure that the new system works as it is designed while transfer sophomore Jarrett Calhoun of Linden, N.J., will challenge for immediate playing time. Freshman Justin Brooks of Pelham, Ala., will add depth to an already strong Number One guard slot in the Badger line up.
Senior guards Robert Gipson out of W.P. Davidson High School in Mobile and Ty McCants of Pensacola, Fla., are back at the outside of the Spring Hill offense along with junior Robert Drummond of Fairhope, Ala., sophomores Wesley Pietri of St. Paul's Episcopal School in Mobile and Joseph Ferro of Ocala, Fla. Drummond, Pietri and Ferro were all pressed into early service in the 2012-13 season due to a barrage of Badger injuries, but that experience should provide benefits in the new year. Freshman Kenny Waddell of Lake Charles, La., will also fight for playing time during the season. "Right now, we are still trying to find out what the right combinations are to have on the floor for our offense," says Niven. "We are just about there and we almost have the chemistry worked out. The competition on the court is awesome and that's a great situation to have."
On defense, Niven is happy with his team's work ethic and energy. "It's not a tough defense to learn," he says. "But it needs tough kids who play hard because it's very physical and so far I'm pleased with our work ethic."
Niven points to his team leadership as a major reason as to why things are coming together so quickly for the Badgers. "I believe that leadership is a natural process that just emerges on a team, but McCants, Looney and the other upperclassmen have really stepped up and shown the way for our younger players with great attitudes," he says. "Our seniors are very mature and that's made it easier on me."
"This year I just ask our fans to support these kids," Nivens says. "They represent Spring Hill with class and do things the right way. They play their hearts out and if I don't get in their way, I truly believe that their efforts will translate into wins this year."
The Badgers open the year on Wednesday at 7 p.m. versus NAIA newcomer Dalton State College at the Arthur R. Outlaw Recreation Center.