Today, 8:30 p.m.
Radio: 103.7 FM
The 2011-12 season was a giant step forward for the Georgia Southern Eagles.
The Eagles went from winning only one Southern Conference game a season prior, to finishing with the league’s second-best record last year.
“We did it in the South, against Wofford, Davidson and Charleston,” said head coach Charlton Young, who is entering his fourth year. “That’s the power structure in our league, and we’ve kind of finagled ourselves in there as one of those power teams.”
The biggest monkey left GSU’s back in the SoCon Tournament, where the Eagles beat Chattanooga to win a post season game for the first time since 2007.
That win was perhaps the biggest evidence of progress, and a good reason for the Eagles to be optimistic this year, too.
“Basketball is 85-percent from the neck up,” Young said. “You’ve got to know you can do it. You can talk about it and feel it, but until you actually do it, it doesn’t mean as much. Once these kids saw that they could win in the league and win in the tournament, now it’s like, ‘Come on, give me some more.’”
They’ll have to do it without guards Willie Powers and Ben Drayton, both fixtures in the lineup all four years, who played their senior seasons in 2011-12.
“We will be forever indebted to those two guys,” Young said. “They helped rebuild this program and get us in championship contention. You don’t fill shoes like that, you brush them off and put them on the shelf.”
Things will change a bit with the loss of Powers and Drayton. The offense relied heavile on ball screens at the top of the key the last few years, and the new lineup will go away from that a little bit.
“We’ll be a little bit more of a motion team and a little bit less of a ball-screen team,” Young said. “I think we’ll be better shooters. (Powers and Drayton) were just terror on wheels and they could dominate you in the paint, dominate a game and create a lot of offense for other people. We’re not trying to replace, we’re trying to adjust our team to our talent.”
Leading the guards will be senior transfer C.J. Reed, who came to GSU after sitting out a year at Central Florida.
Reed is joined by his father, Cliff Reed, a first-year assistant at GSU.
Both were at Bethune-Cookman, as a player and a coach respectively, until allegations by an unnamed, 18-year-old Bethune-Cookman women’s basketball player of a sexual assault in which C.J. Reed was involved.
No charges or arrests came from the investigation, but Cliff Reed was fired from Bethune-Cookman when he refused to cooperate with the police investigation.
Cliff Reed was hired at GSU in June 2012, and C.J. Reed later transferred from UCF after the program was hit with NCAA sanctions for recruiting violations. Because of the NCAA penalty at UCF, C.J. Reed was permitted to transfer without sitting out for a year.
Reed is joined in the backcourt by sophomore Jessie Pernell and junior Tre Bussey, as well as freshmen Cleon Roberts, Chris Daniels and Cole Rives, and sophomore Tracy Ham Jr.
Leading the Eagles on both sides of the court is Eric Ferguson, a junior swing guard/forward who returns as the team’s leading scorer and a top candidate for Southern Conference Player of the Year.
“To be honest, going 12-6 in the league was bittersweet. That freshman group that became sophomores, and the freshmen we brought in that year — Pernell and (forward) Kameron Dunnican — that group really took off. We really thought we could have been 14-4 or 13-5.”
Dunnican is joined in the paint by senior Cameron Baskerville and juniors Sam Mike and Marvin Baynham.
The Eagles open the season today at 8:30 p.m., on the road at Valparaiso, which defeated the Eagles, 90-81, in the 2011-12 season opener.
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.