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New flock of Eagles ready to get season underway

As the 2010-11 college basketball season gets underway, there’s good news and bad news for the Georgia Southern Eagles and second-year coach Charlton Young.

The good news is that the freshman class — seven players led by former Statesboro Blue Devil Eric Ferguson — was rated as the top class in the Southern Conference by ESPN.

"The bad news is they have no earthly idea what’s going on," said Young.

The Eagles, who finished 9-23 overall and 6-12 in SoCon play during Young’s first year, were expected this season to be led by point guard Willie Powers, who was second on the team in points per game (14.7) and first in total assists (175), but was sidelined for the year with an offseason injury.

In his place will be a committee of point guards, with senior Ben Drayton and freshman Jelani Hewitt taking the ball up the court.

Drayton came off the bench for 9.4 points per game last season.

Hewitt, a combo guard at Northeast High School in Oakland Park, Fla. last year, will have to learn as he goes as a point guard.

"He just has to improve his decision making and learn to become a point guard, the way Willie did last year," Young said. "Willie really became a big-time point guard by the end of the year — one of the top scorers, led the league in assist-to-turnover ratio — and Jelani’s just now learning."

Only three seniors — forward Rory Spencer, guard Johntavious Rucker and Drayton — return to the court this season.

The only other returning contributor is sophomore forward Cameron Baskerville, so Young has to figure out how to get his freshmen ready.

"I think if coaches had the answer to that, they would bottle it up, sell it and get rich," he said. "I think the only thing you can do is continue to give them confidence, watch a ton of film and put them in as many tough situations as you can."

One way to create tough situations is through scheduling. The Eagles open the season today in South Bend, Ind. against Notre Dame at 8:30 p.m. They will face road tests against Cincinnatti, South Florida, Texas Tech and Auburn before beginning the SoCon schedule.

"With the young pups we got," Young said, "it’s going to be a rollercoaster ride."

Ferguson, a 6-foot-7 swing guard who played two years of prep ball in the northeast at The Winchendon School after leading Statesboro to the 2008 Region 2-AAAA championship, led the Eagles in an exhibition last Friday against Fort Valley State which they won 59-55.

Despite leading the team to the win, Young wasn’t happy with Ferguson’s overall performance.

"He had 22 points, seven rebounds and five blocks in his first [exhibition] game, and he played terrible," Young said. "He could have had 40."

Young expects Spencer, a 6-foot-8 forward, to lead the young Eagles in the post, but he also expects big things from the freshmen.

Marvin Baynham, Sam Mike, Austin Younker and Justin Taylor join Spencer and Baskerville at forward.

"I think he’ll be the all-time leading rebounder when he walks out of here," Young said about Baynham. "In his first exhibition he had 11 points and 11 rebounds. That’s strong, and he’s better offensively than people give him credit for."

Rounding out the freshman class is Tre Bussey, who is expected to come off the bench to help out the guard position.

The Eagles open the home schedule Monday when they host Carver College at 7 p.m.

 

Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.

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