Men's Basketball Season Preview

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Illustration by Ben Watford

Thousands pile through the turnstiles as they enter the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. They pack themselves into the seats, creating a sea of green and gold. Students, faculty, proud parents and fans alike all fill the arena hoping for one thing: the Jacksonville University men’s basketball team’s return to prominence.

Head coach Cliff Warren has a young, fairly new group of guys composing the roster for the 2012-2013 campaign. With three returning starters from last year, Warren expects them to elevate their game as well as the play of those around them.

“Aside from the three returning starters, we have got a lot of guys with tremendous talent and upside who are improving day in and day out,” Warren said.

JU added junior Javon Dawson, a transfer from the University of Utah, as well as Junior-College transfer Dylan Fritsch to the mix along with four freshmen.

“Dawson and Fritsch are going to be big for us. Javon is a huge post player and space eater. He has a great touch for a 6-foot-6-inch, 260-pound forward,” Warren said.

Coach Warren wants to see the team competing night in and night out but most importantly, win or lose, he wants effort.

“We can’t measure wins and losses by effort but that’s what I expect. If everyone gives their all, success will come,” Warren said.

In 2009, JU beat cross-town rival North Florida in the Atlantic Sun Tournament before falling to Mercer. That same season, JU received an invite to the National Invitation Tournament where they defeated top-seed Arizona Sate before losing in Lubbock, Texas to Texas Tech. Next season JU continued their success, knocking off 20th ranked Florida and the Auburn Tigers just weeks apart.

The early portion of the 2012-2013 schedule lends the Dolphins no favors. JU opens on the road at Georgia and faces Miami a week later. After a trip to Mexico for the Hoops for Hope Classic, the stretch of tough games continues with a trip to South Carolina to face the Gamecocks and a Dec. 2 match up with pre-season number one, Indiana.

“The tough tests against these bigger schools are good. We see more depth in size and athleticism then in the A-Sun,” Warren said.

Getting off to a hot start is key but it is more so now for the Dolphins then ever before. A good start would do wonders for the newcomers’ confidence as well as the veterans.

“As far as key games go, they’re all key. We want to get off to a hot start. Every game is just as important to us,” Warren said. “We want to win the A-Sun regular season title, the A-Sun post-season title and get a tournament bid.”

In order to reach their goals of a tournament bid and conference championship, it’s up to the likes of Russell Powell, Keith McDougald and Glenn Powell to take the reigns and lead the team to success. This trio, along with a strong supporting cast, holds the fate of the 2012 campaign in their hands.

Junior guard Keith McDougald has been starting for the Dolphins since 2010 as a freshman. McDougald averaged 9.1 points per game as a freshman and 11.2 PPG as a sophomore in limited action due to injury, according to www.judolphins.com. McDougald has been here for good times and bad and he knows what it will take for the team to succeed and he is willing to put in the extra work.

“In order for us to excel this year, we’re going to have to apply the dos and don’ts from what we learned a year ago. We should be strong across the board leading us to some wins,” McDougald said.

The team spent some time this summer in the Dominican Republic playing a small slate of games, while lending a hand in the community and bonding as a group.

“The trip really helped us get the kinks out on the court. We got time to get used to one another so rather then spending the early part of the season on that, we’ve got a head start,” McDougald said.

Warren knows what significance the student body can have on the game. He is doing whatever he can to get the students involved to create a fun, energetic environment to play in. Not to mention a hostile awakening for the visiting squad.

“We need everyone’s support to be successful. Continuously coming to games and supporting us will pay off. Please stick with us and we will return the favor,” Warren said.

Warren recently made rounds to the fraternity and sorority chapter meetings seeking what was needed to draw them to the games.

“When Greek life support was at its peak, we were highly successful,” Warren said. “They provided a fun, raucous environment to play in and the players thrive off of that.”

In need of a morale boost, a strong start would help bury the pain from last season. As a fellow JU athlete, Clayton Levins knows all about the highs of winning and the lows of losing.

“A year like the previous one could really diminish morale,” Levins said. “Athletes can’t think year to year, they have to go day by day. You’ve got 24 hours to enjoy victory and 24 hours to mourn defeat. You have to live in the now and play your best.”