HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - After two years under a dark and program-diminishing cloud of NCAA charges and self-imposed punishments, a new era has dawned for the University of Southern Mississippi men's basketball team.
For the first time in three years, USM is eligible for post-season play, from the Conference USA Tournament and beyond, and the Golden Eagles are hoping to take full advantage.
"This is the first year that we're going to be able to play in postseason play, and I know our guys are excited about that," third-year USM coach Doc Sadler said. "I'm excited about it. Not that you didn't have something to play for (before), but everybody wants to play for a championship, and now we have that opportunity, and I know we're all looking forward to it."
The Golden Eagles will usher in the new season at 7 p.m. Thursday at Green Coliseum, when they host Mississippi College in the first of two exhibition games.
USM will welcome William Carey University at 7 p.m. on Nov. 7 for the second exhibition before officially tipping off the season at 7 p.m. on Nov. 11 against visiting Tougaloo.
The Golden Eagles finished 8-21 last season, including 5-13 in C-USA play.
USM returns four of its top five leading scorers, though starting senior point guard Khari Price will be sidelined for an unknown period of time after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his knee three weeks ago.
But Sadler said the team will lean on its three other seniors, guard Michael Ramey, swingman Quinton Campbell and forward Raheem Watts, for leadership and production.
"I don't have any idea about how many games we're going to win, but as with most teams, the success that we have is going to have a lot to do with the success that those four guys (including Price) have," Sadler said.
The Golden Eagles also welcome back forward Tim Rowe and guards Robert Thomas III and Cortez Edwards.
Guard Kevin Holland returns after missing 2015-16 with an injury, and forward Eddie Davis III is back after two, injury-plagued years.
Guard Bilal Abdur-Rahim, a transfer from Colby (Kansas) Community College, is expected to be an early contributor among the newcomers.
Two other transfers, guard Tyree Griffin (Oklahoma State) and guard Dominic Magee (Grand Canyon) on the 17-man roster will practice this season, but have to sit this season.
The coaching staff will have a new look.
Chris Croft was named assistant coach after two years as director of basketball operations. First-year assistants include former USM great Clarence Weatherspoon and Marques Townsend.
Kyle Roane, who spent seven years on James Green's staff at USM and has deep roots in the community after coaching stints at Jones County Junior College, Pearl River Community College, Petal High School and Forrest County Agricultural High School, joined Sadler's staff as director of basketball operations.
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