HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - University of Southern Mississippi men’s basketball coach Doc Sadler, arguably, will be able to bring his most talented as well as his most experienced team to the court for the upcoming season.
The preseason trick has been stitching the two components together: a freshman signing class Sadler steadfastly declares is “as talented as any I’ve ever had” with a five-man senior class featuring the squad’s top four returning scorers.
“What we’re running up against is we’ve got two different teams,” Sadler said Monday after during USM’s media day gathering. “We’ve got the team that knows what to do because they’ve been here and you’ve got a bunch of freshmen who are trying to learn what to do, and that separation has been a little bit bigger than what I anticipated.
“The good news is that freshman group is a really talented group of kid, so once they pick up everything, it’s going to move a lot faster and also it’s going to make us a lot better.”
USM is coming off its best showing in Sadler’s tenure, posting a 16-18 record in a season that ended on a strong note.
The Golden Eagles not only made the field of the 2018 Conference USA Men’s Basketball Championship postseason tournament, but ran through the first two rounds, reaching the semifinals by defeating regular-season champion Middle Tennessee State University.
“There’s more confidence because now we know what we can do,” USM senior point guard Tyree Griffin said. “We knew we could win games, but we could never finish games at the end of the year. So, coming off that tournament run, we feel like we’re going to do a lot better.”
Griffin (15 points, team-best 5.9 assists) and fellow transfer, swingman Dominic Magee (11.7 points, team-high 6.6 rebounds), join senior backcourt mates Cortez Edwards (team-high 16.6 points, 6.4 rebounds) and Kevin Holland (team-high 59 3-pointers) to form what Sadler calls the “best guards in the league.
“Now, it’s their job to go prove that they are.”
Also returning are senior guard Anfernee Hampton, junior forward Tim Rowe and junior guard Clay Weatherspoon.
The veterans will be joined by the largest group of newcomers since the program was notified of violations committed by the previous regime two weeks after Sadler took over the reins.
The first two years saw USM under a self-imposed postseason ban that also included the conference tourney. The program was crimped by scholarship limitations whose effects still linger.
But last year, USM signed one of Mississippi top prospects in forward LaDarius Draine, and this year added a quartet of first-year talent in guard Gabe Watson (Ridgeland/St. Joseph Catholic); forward Ladarius Marshall (Jackson/Forest Hill); swingman Tyler Stevenson (Columbus/New Hope); and Shakur Daniel (Ajax,Ontario,Candad/Southwest Christian Acamdey).
Those four will be joined by three other new faces, junior college forward Boban Jacdonmi, redshirted JUCO transfer, forward Leonard Harper-Baker, and junior guard Christian Clark.
Eight practices into the preseason, Sadler is trying to remind himself while it’s likely to take some time getting them to the table, youth eventually will be served.
“I’m looking forward to this season,” Sadler said. “It’s been a long four years, but I think we’re now to the point, and I’ve told people this, while I know that we’re not going to go undefeated, I do know this, that every game we go into now, we’ve got a chance.
“I’ve not been able to say that in the past.”
USM will host Southeastern Baptist College of Laurel on Nov. 6 before visiting Southern Methodist University on Nov. 11 in Dallas.