BATESVILLE, Ark. - There is plenty of reason for optimism in the Lyon College men's basketball camp. With the 2012-13 season opener set for Oct. 30 at home against Mid-Continent University, the Scots will be primed for their first run at a American Midwest Conference championship.
Why so much optimism? The Scots are loaded with young talent this year, both in the middle and at the guard spots. Mix that some solid players returning, seven players standing 6-5 or taller and three key transfers and its no wonder there appears to be an extra spring in the players' step during preseason workouts.
"I'm excited about the new conference we're coming into this year," said Jenkins, who is beginning his 18th season (201-297 overall) with the Scots. I think we have as good an opportunity to compete night in and night out as anybody.
"Your goal every year is to win the conference championship. I think, with this group, if we don't challenge for the championship, we'll be knocking on the door. And if we add more pieces to the puzzle next year we'll be a contender for years to come.
"It looks to be a real fruitful time for men's basketball around here."
Despite coming off an 8-21 mark a year ago and losing first-team all-conference and TranSouth Athletic Conference Newcomer of the Year C.J. Blount off of last year's team, it appears the Scots' staff has done a complete job of bringing in players to compensate for the loss of the former freshman who averaged 14.6 points and 8.3 boards last season.
The Scots are welcoming back their lone senior, Slater Belew
, a 6-8 forward from Chattanooga, Tenn., to anchor the attack on both ends of the floor. After earning second-team all-conference honors as a sophomore, Belew had an off-year in 2011-12, finishing fourth on the team in scoring (9.9 ppg) and second in rebounding (4.1 rpg) a year ago. But his performance was good enough to earn him another second-team all-conference honor. And his work ethic in the off-season and leadership ability has earned praises from Jenkins.
"We have four or five players coming back that are really going to contribute for us this year, and it all starts with Slater," Jenkins explained. "He didn't have the year that we were hoping for last season, so we're counting on him to step up this season. He's our only senior and he's showing that leadership on and off the floor."
Three other Lyon sophomores receiving considerable starting time a year ago as freshmen and will be looked upon to step up their game. Devonte Young
, a 6-1 guard from Beebe, Ark., was second on the squad in scoring last year (9.4 ppg), hitting 33.9% of his three-point field goals and making the TranSouth All-Freshman team. Kendall Leeks
, a 6-5 guard/forward from Marianna, Fla., threw in 8.5 points and 2.9 rebounds and was also on the all-freshman team in 2011-12. Rickey Thomas
, a 6-2 guard/forward from Little Rock, Ark. also received his share of time on the floor last season.
"Devonte and Kendall are two guys will are going to have to give us some help this season," Jenkins reasoned. "We'll also look for Rickey Thomas
(6-2, soph., G/F, Little Rock, Ark.) and Marcus Williams
(6-2, soph., G, Jacksonville, Ark.) to step up their games. They both played as freshmen and have got some experience under their belts. So we're not sitting here with guards that don't have any NAIA experience, that's for sure.
"And newcomer Jordan McAllister
(fresh., G, Panama City, Fla.) averaged 15 points and six assists per game at Holmes High School in Florida and should also give us some help, along with Alex Kieffer
(6-5, fresh., C, Pocahontas, Ark.), who is the son of one of the better players I've ever coached here.
"Right now the uncertainty is how the new guys are going to blend in with the older guys."
Three transfer players will also boost the Scots' lineup right away. Marcus Humos (Marianna, Fla.) is a 6-1 junior from Gulf Coast Community College in Florida, where he averaged 22 points per game. In addition, Stephon Martinez
(Bonne Terre, Mo.), a 5-11 guard from Illinois Central C.C., who helped his team to a 20-win season and threw in 8.3 points and 4.0 assists per outing in 29 games, and Jordan Layrock
(6-6, junior, Paragould, Ark.), a 6-6 transfer from Harding University. Those three players can step in and contribute.
Lyon College will have no shortage of size this year for an NAIA school. They might not have the bulk up front, but the addition of 22-year old Boris Guryev
, 6-10 freshman from Moscow, Russia, the return of 6-8 sophomore James Huddleston
(Munford, Tenn.) and 6-7 sophomore Ben Worlow
(Mountain Home, Ark.), the Scots have the opportunity to control the inside game.
"We have more size than we've had here in the past," Coach Jenkins said. "Our depth in our 4s and 5s (post positions) is as good as it's been - as far as size - in a long time. With Slater (6-8), Ben (6-7) Jordan Layrock
(6-6) and Boris (6-10), we have a front line we can put out there and play. They're not a physical ‘monster' group when it comes to bulk, but we have the size and athleticism that can get up and down the court and shoot and rebound."
Jenkins said he and Lyon assistant coach Matt Creamer
have been working in preseason to bulk up the team's frontline by getting them in the weight room and working on physical toughness.
Another key with the squad throughout will be the ability to stop opponents by playing tough defense consistently.
"My philosophy is that most of the players we've recruited here can all score a little bit," the coach explained. "One of the things we've got to get them believing is that we've got to work hard and keep people from scoring and then the offensive part will take care of itself.
"We've got a good enough group that can put the ball in the hole. We've got to really focus on defense this year. I think that's one of the areas we didn't do well last year. We can't afford to get behind defensively and try to play catch-up. You can catch up offensively, because that's what everybody likes to play. But we have to make the difference on the defensive end and rebounding."
Jenkins said this year in the next few years could be exciting times for Lyon College men's basketball.
"The only thing, at this point, that could be a little bit of an issue is our lack of physical bulk on the inside if we play a team that tries to muscle us," he stated. "But we've been working on that and we have to be able to handle that and be tough onside on the offensive end.
"There seems to be a different ‘air' about this team going into the season. These guys feel there is a great opportunity coming up. There is a sense of more unity than we've had in the last few years. We've got 12 or 13 guys that you can put on the floor and feel we can compete, and that's more than the six or seven steady performers we've had in the past.
"We're excited about what's head for this team, there's no doubt."
After the Scots open the season on Oct. 30 at home against Mid-Continent at 7:30 p.m., Lyon will host Ecclesia College Nov. 2 in the annual homecoming matchup at 8 p.m.
Lyon College will open its first season of play in the American Midwest Conference on Jan. 3 when the Scots travel to St. Louis, Mo. to face Harris-Stowe State University.