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Byington gets ready for first season at helm

Byington gets ready for first season at helm

Byington gets ready for first season at helm

    There’s only one word that can be used to describe Georgia Southern’s basketball team — change.
    Mark Byington is in his first year as the team’s head coach. Four starters — Cameron Baskerville and C.J. Reed (graduation), Eric Ferguson (injury) and Cleon Roberts (transfer) — are not around. There are five new players in the lineup. Of 19 players on the active roster, only seven saw any playing time last season, a year that saw the Eagles finish 14-19 and 7-11 in Southern Conference play.
    Finally, perhaps the biggest change is that the 2013-14 season will be GSU’s last in the SoCon before joining the Sun Belt Conference.
    The construction of new offices and a new locker room in Hanner Fieldhouse serve as an apt metaphor for a program that hasn’t had a winning record since the 2005-06 season (20-10), including vacated wins from 2007 until 2009 after the program was placed on academic probation.
    Byington’s first change on the court came with the practice structure.
    “They’re very demanding. They’re long. They’re difficult,” Byington said. “Our guys understand the price you’ve got to pay to win. We’re just trying to get better every day, do the right thing every day, and then let the results take care of themselves.”
    The Eagles were allowed to vote the team captains, and the team selected seniors Tre Bussey and Marvin Baynham, and redshirt junior Jelani Hewitt, who sat out last season after coming up academically ineligible.
    Hewitt used the season to prove himself off the court.
    “He had a terrific spring semester academically, worked really hard this summer, and I expect a big year out of him,” Byington said about Hewitt.
    The starting lineup will also change, due to the loss of so many starters, but that’s one change Byington hasn’t made yet.
“The only two guys who have put themselves ahead in my mind as starters are Jelani Hewitt and Tre Bussey,” Byington said. “Marvin Baynham is probably in that class. The other guys, there’s competition.”
    All of the new faces are expected to contribute, except forward Trent Wiedeman, who transferred from College of Charleston and must sit a year in the process. Byington was the interim head coach at Charleston before joining the Virginia Tech staff as an assistant last season.
    Junior college transfers Curtis Diamond and Angel Matias are expected to contribute, as well as freshmen Torlorf Thomas and Kyle Doyle.
    “Kyle is a skill forward. He can dribble, can shoot, can drive and has some game to him,” Byington said.     “Torlorf should be a high-level defensive player for us.”
    With Wiedeman and Ferguson sidelined this season, size will definitely be an issue for the Eagles.
    “Versatility will be a strength of ours,” Byington said. “The lack of depth will be something we’ve got to overcome. And our lack of size. We’re not a big team. We’ve got to figure out ways to play small ball and be successful at it.”
    The season begins at home on Nov. 1, with an exhibition against Thomas University at 7 p.m.

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

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