Men's Basketball Team Is Young And Athletic

ANDERSON, S.C. -- Anderson University head men’s basketball coach Jason Taylor had three goals for his team after the 2006-07 was completed – more speed, more quickness, and more athleticism. “We think we have done all three,” said Taylor, who is entering his second season as head coach of the Trojans. “As far as putting the ball on the floor, going by you, and creating a shot for someone else, we’ve got that. We didn’t have that at all last year.” The Trojans open the 2007-08 season Saturday at North Greenville. Taylor says his team’s biggest two question marks are a low-post presence and consistent shooting from behind the arc. “I think our mid-range game has improved dramatically,” he said. “We’ve got some guys who can finish around the basket. We want our point totals to go up this season.” After reviewing game tapes, Taylor believes Anderson’s scoring average of 60 points per game last season should have been much better. “We got great shots,” he said. “We got a layups, paint shots, open threes. We’re going to do some of the same stuff, but we’re going to have a lot more driving. I like using ball screens. We’re going to open it up more. “We’re trying not to live in the past. It’s a new year, a new team. It’s a very focused team. We’ve already had some gut checks, but we’ve been pleased overall with the way they have prepared. It’s a group of guys who like each other.” The Trojans have seven returnees – guards Jonathan Mattox (So., Watkinsville, Ga.), Stoney Hill (So., Fayetteville, Ga.), Nayte Russell (Sr., Birmingham, Ala.), and Drew Keenan (Sr., Easley, S.C.) and forwards Josh Beale (So., Flowery Branch, Ga.), Levi Ashworth (So., Kingsport, Tenn.), and Kris Fudzinskas (Sr., Vilnius, Lithuania). “As a whole, that group got better this summer,” Taylor said. “I’ve told the guys I’m going to ask for more than you want to give but not as much as you’re capable of giving. We’re going to push them hard, work them hard. We will be prepared. We will be ready. I’m a better coach than I was last year. I learned a whole last year.” Russell, who will not play until mid-December, was second on the team in scoring last season at 11.3 points per game. He shot 50 percent from the field and 74 percent from the free throw line. He also averaged 2.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. He scored in double figures in seven of Anderson’s last eight games, including 25 against Mount Olive on Feb. 24. Keenan averaged 4.5 points per game coming off the bench and was one of the team’s top free throw shooters at 78 percent. Fudzinskas was the team’s leading inside scorer at 6.3 points per game. Taylor is looking for more production from the 6-foot-8 Fudzinskas this season. “If Kris can carry over his work habits on the practice floor into the game, he will be a factor,” Taylor said. “When he wants to, he can really seal. He’s strong enough to hold a seal, and he’s strong enough to finish inside. He also can move his feet well enough to be an effective defender.” Fudzinskas will be a key element in improving one of Anderson’s weakest areas last season – rebounding. Anderson’s rebounding margin of minus 7 last season. “Our rebounding was inconsistent,” Taylor said. “It was frustrating to watch. We had a lot of balls popping out of hands. When you get your hands on it, you have to pull it in. Our leading rebounder last year averaged just 3.8 boards. I think we’ve got a couple of guards who are going to average that many this season. We need to rebound the ball better and get to the free throw line more.” Taylor believes the incoming freshmen will convert the Trojans from a “ground-level team” into a team that can get above the rim. “Jarret Johnson (Fr., Greensboro, N.C.) and Stephen Cobb (Fr., Raleigh, N.C.) both are extremely athletic vertically,” he said. “They can put it on the floor and make a mid-range pull up. Kevis Cornwell (Fr., York, S.C.) and Brandon Young (Fr., Belmont, N.C.) both are very athletic and quick. Young is a true point guard who will make everybody else on the team better. “Trey Britton (Fr., Alpharetta, Ga.) will be an exciting player at the four spot. He’s very strong, and he can play above the rim. Quinton Baines (Fr., Enoree, S.C.) is bouncy and strong. Cass Hickman (Fr., Bowman, Ga.) is an undersized post who will knock you on your rear. Jamelle Lowery (So., Stanley, N.C.), a transfer from UNC Pembroke, is a true point guard. All of these guys will give us a dimension we haven’t had. You can’t have too many guys who can dribble, shoot, and pass.” Will the influx of talented newcomers lead to a faster tempo for the Trojans? “The players will dictate the tempo,” Taylor said. “We would love to play fast. You can only go as fast as you can go making good decisions. Our biggest priority is to get good shots on offense. I’m all for running. Running sounds good, but you have to be able to make decisions while running.” In addition to preaching good shot selection, Taylor also wants his team to be both physically and mentally tough in the nation’s toughest NCAA Division II conference – Conference Carolinas. “We consistently talk about toughness,” he said. “Last year, we dove on the floor for loose balls. This year, I want us to get those loose balls. Last year, we blocked out but didn’t get the rebounds. This year, we’re going to get those rebounds. We want to have a hunger. It’s all about toughness. This is going to be a fun team to watch. It’s going to be interesting.” The schedule features a pair of road games against Division I schools – Coastal Carolina and High Point and a home-and-home with long-time rival North Greenville. “This could be the best year for Conference Carolinas since I’ve been here,” Taylor said. “Barton is the defending national champion and is going to be very strong. Mount Olive will be better, and Queens has everybody back.”
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