2011-12 CLAYTON STATE MEN’S BASKETBALL SEASON PREVIEW
Over the last few seasons, there has been a missing piece to the Clayton State Laker men's basketball team. A shooter here, a legitimate scorer in the paint here, an effective ball handler there – all of which has kept the Lakers from playing at the championship level that has been accustomed under head coach Gordon Gibbons.
However, as the Lakers enter the 2011-12 season, Gibbons appears to have "the compete package." For the first time in roughly five seasons, Clayton State appears to have a complete and balanced team, ranging from size and strength in the post to effective shooters on the perimeter to playmakers directing the team at the point. The new size and depth can give Gibbons many different combinations, whether it is with speed or with size, but sound basketball both ways.
It's enough for the coaches in the Peach Belt Conference to take notice as they voted the Lakers tied for third in the PBC preseason poll despite the fact that Clayton State returns only two starters and five players from last season's team that finished 19-10 overall and 10-7 in the Peach Belt.
In addition, Clayton State is ranked 16th in the nation in the Basketball Times Division II preseason Top 20 poll, and the Lakers received votes in the NABC Division II preseason Top 25 poll.
"From the day this group arrived on campus in August as a complete group, I had a feeling that this had a chance to be a special group," said Gibbons, who is 190-109 entering his 11th season at the Laker helm. "We have two players (Torrin Greene and Juron Dobbs) that have led in different ways, and the new guys that have come in have accepted that leadership and assumed a lot of the responsibilities as well.
"We've had a winning team mentality this preseason, and I think this group has a chance to be a special group. Everything seems to fit the way we like it."
Granted, Clayton State will have two huge sets of shoes to fill with the graduation of guards Brandon Robinson and Timmy Downs – the top two scorers in the Peach Belt Conference last season. Robinson averaged 20 points a game to garner All-Peach Belt Conference, Division II All-Southeast Region and Division II All-American honors. Downs, meanwhile, averaged 19 points a game and led the Peach Belt in steals to earn both All-PBC and All-Southeast Region honors.
Together, they accounted for better than 50 percent of the Lakers' offensive output. Also graduated is steady center Michael Thorogood.
"We didn't go into last season with the design of building our offense around two players, but it evolved into that and early," Gibbons said. "I was proud of that team last season. I thought we did about everything we could do and got a lot out of that team."
However, a stellar recruiting class is what has Clayton State faithful excited about the upcoming season. It includes three Division I transfers, two Division II transfers and three stellar standouts from the junior college level all meshing with current group returning from last season.
The backbone for the Lakers are the two returning starters – forwards Torrin Greene and Juron Dobbs. Greene, a 6-foot-6, 216-pound senior, is Clayton State's top returning scorer at seven points and four rebounds a game, while shooting 41 percent from 3-point range to rank fifth in the Peach Belt. Dobbs averaged six points and five rebounds a game and shot 45 percent from the field.
Together, this duo gives the Lakers a great combination at forward.
"For us to really good, Torrin and Juron have to be better than they were last season, and they definitely are," Gibbons said. "Both are better players than they were, they both can accept whatever role is asked of them and they are smart players."
Gibbons is also hoping to a have a healthy and productive Andrew Bachanov this season in the post. The 6-9, 250-pound junior came to Clayton State last season from the junior college ranks with a lot of promise and potential as a legitimate scorer in the post, and it showed in some of the Lakers' early-season games.
But Bachanov missed a majority of the Peach Belt portion of the schedule with a foot injury, and not having his presence in the post was felt throughout. He finished averaging six points and five rebounds a game while shooting 48 percent from the field. Gibbons believes that this is the season that Bachanov will step up and be that inside force that the Lakers have lacked over the last couple of seasons.
"He's been 100 percent better since the start of the practice and has really played his butt off," Gibbons said. "Andrew is still rather young to basketball, especially organized basketball. But he's smart, he's picked stuff up quickly and he's a definitely ready for a real good year."
Replacing Downs at the point is a key for the Lakers, and Gibbons has two seasoned transfers to step into that role – seniors Anthony Salter and Bradley Tumer.
Salter came into the Laker program at the midway point of last season from Division I Hawaii, and had the chance to practice with the team and learn Gibbons' system thoroughly. Prior to signing with Hawaii, Salter was a two-time NJCAA All-Region performer at Iowa Western, where he was the top-rated JUCO point guard and the No. 3-ranked player nationally at the junior college level.
Tumer comes to Clayton State from fellow Division II program Carson-Newman, where he led the South Atlantic Conference and finished fourth in the nation last season in assists with 164. He also set the single-game SAC record for assists with 19 against Newberry.
These are two weapons, according to Gibbons, that can both play the point and together in the same rotation.
"These are two explosive players, even though they are different in their own sense as players," Gibbons said. "Tumer is a great driver of the basketball and very much of a threat in transition finishing at the basket, and is also a terrific passer. Salter is equally-good with the ball, but a tremendous shooter off the dribble and very unselfish."
Two Division I transfers will supplement Robinson on the wing in senior Teondre Williams and junior Tony Dukes. Both could have breakout All-Peach Belt Conference performances this season.
Williams played the last three seasons at Oregon under head coaches Ernie Kent and Dana Altman, and led the Ducks in 3-point shooting percentage each of the last two seasons. At 6-5 and 218 pounds, he is not only a legitimate shooting threat from 3-point range, but explosive and athletic to create match-up problems for the opposition.
The 6-2, 175-pound Dukes started last season at former Peach Belt rival USC Upstate after a tremendous freshman season at Atlanta Metro where he earned NJCAA All-Region honors. Last season at USC Upstate, Dukes shot 31 percent from 3-point range, and scored 19 points against Virginia and 13 points against Auburn.
While the wing is the natural position for Dukes, Gibbons can use him as an emergency point guard if the need arises.
"Teondre is very, very talented, and he's a team guy all the way – a very smart player and very versatile," Gibbons said. "The biggest thing with him is being focused and consistent. And Tony is a battler on the court that wants to learn, get better and playing in a system."
The "X-Factor" on the Clayton State perimeter could be the emergence of junior guard Rico Lewis. The 6-3, 170-pounder comes to Clayton State pretty much familiar with the Gibbons system after playing two seasons at Waycross Community College under former Laker player and assistant coach Cory Baldwin.
While at Waycross, Lewis helped pace the SwampFoxes to the NJCAA National Tournament last year in only the program's second season competitively. He led the nation in steals at the junior college level with 135, and also averaged 13 points, seven rebounds and four assists a game to earn GCAA Defensive Player of the Year honors, plus NJCAA All-Region and All-American honors.
Gibbons expects Lewis to be the defensive spark off the bench for the Lakers.
"What I like about him (Lewis) and how he fits this team is he does things nobody else does," Gibbons said. "He's a ball-hawk; he's going to make plays on defense. But as much as he is a defensive stalwart, the guy is a tremendous shooter and makes plays offensively."
Clayton State played with basically one player in the post last season with very little depth. That will be different this season with a healthy Bachanov returning, plus the additions of forward Tyrone Black and center Tim Budd from the junior college ranks. Black is 6-7 and 235 pounds and Budd is 6-10 and 255 pounds, giving the Lakers the needed the depth in the paint.
Budd was an NJCAA All-Region performer last season at Spartanburg Methodist, where he averaged 12 points and seven rebounds a game while shooting 59 percent from the field. The relentless Black played two seasons at Iowa Western (one season as a teammate of Salter), and he ranked amongst the top 150 JUCO players in the nation.
Gibbons is also hoping for big minutes out of junior Omari Murray, who transferred to Clayton State from fellow Division II program Stillman. While at Stillman, Murray was the team's leading rebounder in each of his two seasons.
"Those two players are completely different, but very effective at the same time," Gibbons said about Black and Budd. "Black has a constant motor and is relentless on the boards. He's a high-energy intensity defender that can score around the basket on the offensive end. Tim is a really big guy with good hands, not to mention he's a good passer in the high-low scheme."
Clayton State will be tested early with a challenging non-conference schedule, starting with the season opener at home against Tennessee Temple on Nov. 14. Clayton State also has a home-and-home set against Conference Carolinas power Limestone and a Nov. 26 home date against SAC power Wingate. Finally, Clayton State will renew its non-conference in-state rivalry against West Georgia after a two-year hiatus.
The Lakers play host to the Wolves on Nov. 22, and then go to Carrollton on Dec. 12.
Clayton State's Peach Belt Conference opener should be a dandy at home on Dec. 14 against nationally-ranked Georgia Southwestern.
"This team has the talents and capabilities of being at the top of the region and conference," Gibbons said. "You cannot afford a bunch of injuries, so we need to stay healthy and win some big conference games. But this team is capable of doing some special things this season."