Experience will be strength of Centre men's basketball team

November 14, 2003|MIKE MARSEE

It's easy to see why Greg Mason is looking forward to this season.

The reason is right there at the top of the roster, where half a dozen seniors could make this season a whole lot of fun at Centre College.

Those six seniors provide the Centre men's basketball team with a wealth of experience, and they are the heart of a talented team that expects to contend for a Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference title.

"Our number one strength is the senior class, not only their talent, but also the intangibles they bring," said Mason, who begins his fifth year as Centre's coach.


The seniors have seen a steady plane of improvement in their previous three years, from 14-11 to 16-9 to 18-9 last season, when they tied for third place in the conference and reached the SCAC Tournament final.

"I think this is going to be a fun year," he said. "Expectations are going to be higher, but I think with our maturity level that we can handle raised expectations."

What remains to be seen is how the Colonels handle a rash of preseason injuries that has Mason worried.

Most of the injuries are relatively minor, though it looks like one player and perhaps two will be out of action when Centre opens its season Nov. 21 in the Buzz Ridl Classic at Westminster (Pa.).

Centre returns four of last year's five starters, including three seniors: guards Jason Atwell and James Booker - who is one of those on the injured list - and forward Rob King.

Atwell was asked to change positions just before the start of last season when point guard Kyle Roby was lost to a season-ending knee injury. Still, the Mercer County graduate was a first-team all-SCAC selection after averaging a team-high 14.3 points per game.

"For the first time in his career, he'll be playing his natural position (wing)," Mason said. "He's going to have the chance to finally play to his strengths, and we're excited about what he can do."

There's also excitement around King (9.3 points, 7.1 rebounds), who was last year's leading rebounder and whom Mason said has a 3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio on one end and is the team's best defender on the other.

"He can guard a one or he can guard a five," Mason said. "Rob's probably been our best player in practice. Defensively, he's been all over the place."

Booker recovering from high ankle sprain

Booker (9.1 points, 3.1 rebounds) has been on the sideline after suffering a high ankle sprain in a Sept. 13 pickup game. He hasn't practiced yet, and Mason said he isn't sure if Booker will be ready for the start of the season.

Another senior, Jon Ortega (6.4 points, 1.8 rebounds) is still playing safety for the Centre football team, but once he gets reacclimated to basketball he is expected to team with Roby, who returns for his junior year, to give the Colonels a solid point-guard platoon.

Coy Zerhusen (10.3 points, 6.0 rebounds), who started all but three games as a freshman, is expected to lay claim to the other starting spot.

The bench features seniors Jordan Sucher and Solomon Parker and juniors Travis Hensley and Chris Smith.

Mason has also assembled what might be his best recruiting class. Three freshmen who could see significant playing time are 6-6 Icelandic import Reggie Magnusson, 6-4 Matt Jacobson of Oldham County and 6-9 John Patterson of Henry Clay.

Mason said Jacobson was practicing very well before suffering a torn tendon in his foot Monday that will sideline him for two to three weeks.

"We've had a lot of ankles and shoulders and sore knees," he said. "It's almost a comedy, but I'm not laughing."

"But we understand it's adversity and we've got to work through it. I think our best basketball is in front of us. If we can develop better depth from it, that makes us a stronger team in February and March."

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