COLUMBUS, Ga. - With the start of the basketball regular season just a few days away, there is a buzz around the Columbus State program which is under the direction of second year head coach Robert Moore.
"We feel this year's team will be able to make the next step in the building process of getting Columbus State back to competing for Peach Belt Conference championships and getting into the NCAA Tournament," stated Moore.
"This year's team is a great group of guys with outstanding team chemistry. Our returners have a lot of experience and saw significant minutes last year. Our new guys are all very talented and vying for playing time which has made practice a lot of fun to see day in and day out."
While there will be plenty of doubters who think that the Cougars are still a couple of years away, people who closely followed CSU last year know they are not that far off. During the 2010-11 campaign, 10 of their 15 losses were by 10 points or fewer including four that were single-possession defeats. Three of the four single-possession losses came to a PBC foe which had they swayed in Columbus State's favor, would have greatly altered the standings.
The Cougars return four starters led by Columbus native Steve Peterson. In his first season in the red, white and blue, Peterson paced the offensive attack scoring 13 points a game and shooting over 37% from three-point range.
"Steve is our glue-guy to what we want to do offensively," mentioned Moore. "He had a decent year last year, but we expect him to be even better as he understands what we want him to do on offensive" Returning with Peterson on the wing this year will be Jarmarquis Steverson, who makes the switch outside after running the point for CSU a year ago. The senior averaged 8.2 points per contest while having the 11th most assists in the PBC with 90.
"Moving Jarmarquis to the two will free him up to play a bit more freely and into a natural scoring position. He is a long-guard who can defend and we think his natural instincts will allow him to shine this year."
Columbus State returns its trio of post players in Paul Darkwa, Darius Mcknight and Jonathan Murphy, forming one of the best front courts in the conference. Mcknight headlines the group after dropping 8.2 points a game as well as grabbing 7.2 rebounds a contest. The Conyers native led the Peach Belt in offensive rebounds pulling down 92 total.
"We are looking for Darius to be a little bit more consistent for us this year," commented Moore. "There were some games where he dominated the opponent but then would turn around and didn't have as good a game. If he brings it every game the way he is capable of, he will be one of the best post players in the league."
Darkwa also returns to the starting lineup alongside his post-mate after having a decent first season for the Cougars. The Ghana native scored 8.1 points and 6.6 rebounds a game during the 2010-11 season. His best game of the season came against USC Aiken when he picked up a double-double netting 13 points and pulling down 10 boards.
"The sky is the limit for Paul," said Moore. "He is as strong as any big in the conference, he has good footwork and an array of post moves. Paul has the potential to be the best post player in the league, and that is saying a lot when you have All-American Phillip Brown from Georgia Southwestern in the league."
The final letter winner to return for CSU this season is Murphy who played in all 26 games while making six stars last season. Murphy was normally the first player off the bench for Coach Moore and provided a great deal of energy as he averaged 5.2 points and 3.2 rebounds a contest last year. In just 18 minutes versus Hiwasse, Murphy posted 14 points and recorded 10 rebounds.
"Murph is someone every team needs to have," remarked Moore. "He is a leader on and off the court for us and it shows what the players think of him being voted as the team captain.
"Jonathan can cause matchup problems for the other team since he can step out and knock down some jumpers from the post position." There is plenty of new talent that has joined the Cougars most notably are the additions of Idell Bell, Winford Ivey, Sam Morgan and AJ Shepperd. Bell comes to Columbus State via North Idaho College where he helped the team to a 27-5 record and a Scenic West Athletic Conference title and a runner-up finish at regionals. Ivey has played in 59 games on the JUCO level averaging 9.3 points a game while providing an outside scoring threat.
Shepherd helped Fort Walton Beach High School to one of the best seasons in school history as they won the District 2 5-A and Region 1 5-A titles and became only the third team at FWB to reach the state final four. The 6-2 guard was the Northwest Florida Player of the Year and a First Team All-Area Selection. Morgan helped guide Northland Community College to a 40-16 record during his two years there and led the team in rebound his sophomore season registering 6.9 boards a game.
"Idell is a high energy guy who wants the ball in pressure situations," commented Moore. His leadership along with Sam Morgan is going to be a tremendous asset. Sam is like an extra coach on the floor and he just doesn't make mistakes." "We are very happy that AJ is at Columbus State and adds a lot of size to the point position. He is a mentally tough kid who is going to have a great career for us and we expect him to add a nice punch off our bench. Our coaching staff feels AJ will be able to learn a lot from Winford who has a couple of years of college experience already. Ivey is a great leader who brings it every single day."
Three other players that will see significant minutes for CSU are Jonathan Dabel, Dimitri Davis and Cody Wood. Dabel is a true freshman who arrives in Columbus via Centennial High School in Roswell, GA. Davis redshirted a year ago and will also add a big body to the guard rotation. Wood graduated from John Milledge Academy where he averaged 22 points per game and seven rebounds per contest in his senior season.
"Jonathan is one of our most athletic guys who just needs to play more," stated Moore. "We can see him coming on strong later in the season and adding another shooter to the mix."
"Dimitri is another athletic kid who is going to provide matchup problems for the other team. He will have a strength advantage against most guards while a post player will have a tough time staying in front of him."
"Cody is going to give us a more consistent shot from three-point range to really help stretch the defense. He has great size and loves to play the game." Isaac Joyner, Steve Williams and Jermaine Morgan will all redshirt during the 2011-12 campaign.
With the influx of a talented recruiting class along with a veteran returning cast, Columbus State is poised for a rebound season.
The Cougars will test themselves with a tough schedule that gets underway this weekend at the Nova Southeastern Tip-off Tournament. CSU will take on Puerto Rico Mayaguez Friday afternoon before taking on host Nova Southeastern on Saturday.
Peach Belt Conference play opens up on Tuesday, December 6 at Montevallo.
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