Most people were in bed. But on Monday night/Tuesday morning, there was a group of college students jumping around, playing loud music and gallivanting into the early hours of the morning.
No, it wasn’t some random party. This gathering was led by Randy Lambert, Maryville College’s athletics director and men’s basketball coach.
Lambert offered pizza and beverages as the athletic department opened the doors of Cooper Athletic Center to students, parents, faculty and other faithful MC fans for “Midnight Madness,” the men’s basketball team’s first practice of the year.
Abiding by NCAA regulations, college basketball programs could begin regulated practicing on Oct. 16 this year. The Scots’ wasted no time as they fired into a fun display of dunking and fast break drills at 12:01 a.m.
Lambert’s 25-man squad finished the night/morning with four 10-minute quarters of scrimmaging. There were many awkward glances as fans familiar with the team tried to identify new faces.
No longer can the Maryville faithful find the faces of the “Quad B” attack of Bo Mason, Bradley Blair, Brady Neal and All-American Bobby Golden. Four of the top five scorers from last season’s squad, Maryville grew to rely on the group that combined to score 62 percent of the Scots points.
The first order of business for Lambert and his coaching staff is finding someone to slide into the post positions vacated by Blair and Golden.
“I don’t think we’ll replace them with one or two players,” Lambert said. “I think our strength is going to be in our depth, and we’ll try to replace them by numbers using four or five guys that all bring a different aspect to the game.”
The two most experienced players from that group will be 6-foot-8 senior Jeremy Holliday and 6-6 junior Andrew Shumate. While Shumate is a flexible post player who is capable of stepping out beyond the 3-point arc and draining shots, Holliday is a “finesse type post player,” according to Lambert.
Three sophomores will each bring their own set of skills to the position as Timmy Blakely (6-3), Greg Hernandez (6-6), and Christopher Orr (6-7) each vie for playing time along with 6-7 freshman Matt Hobert.
Who will be feeding the ball to the big mammoths down low on the block is another question Lambert will have to answer if he hopes to add to his 501 career victories and return his squad to the NCAA tournament for the 10th consecutive season and fifteenth time overall.
Returning to fill the vacancy created by the transfer of Bo Mason will be sophomores Eric Anderson and Jared Laverdiere. Both saw significant time last season averaging over 10 minutes per game in the Scots’ backcourt. Challenging the sophomore duo will be freshman Eryk Watson, who Lambert said can “bring a nice scoring touch.”
Another newcomer with a shot at considerable playing time will be sophomore Ben Williamson, a transfer from the East Tennessee State Buccaneers program that fell one win shy of advancing to the Division I NCAA tournament last season.
Williamson saw action in seven games, including the Southeastern Conference’s Vanderbilt University, so he will bring a different type of experience to the already experienced wing positions where Lambert has three seniors.
Last season’s starters Alex Bowers and Quinn Bradley will be joined by Williamson and the return of fan-favorite senior Jonathan Johnson. Johnson was forced to sit out last season due to medical complications but hopes to return to his 2005-2006 form when he started 26 games for Lambert.
The three seniors are each extremely versatile giving the Scots plentiful options on the offensive end where each can slash, rebound, finish in traffic, and shoot the rock from outside. In fact, last season, Bowers edged Bradley out by one-tenth of a percentage point for the team lead in 3-point shooting percentage. Add to that Johnson and Williamson’s marksmanship from the outside, and any given night could be a “three-for-all” for the Scots.
Even more important to Lambert, whose teams are notorious for their in-your-face, nagging man-to-man defense, the three senior wingmen are the most tenacious defenders on the team.
In order for the Scots to be successful this season, the three seniors on the wings and Holliday, the lone senior post player, must pass on the defensive mindset and the desire to distribute the ball freely to the younger players.
“Our greatest strength is our depth,” Lambert stated, “but we’ll have to be very unselfish and learn how to share the basketball.”
Maryville will have to learn quickly as they face some stiff competition early in the season. They open against Averett University, which finished last season 20-7, falling to the 2005-2006 national champion Virginia Wesleyan in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.
If this team is able to make it through the rigors of its schedule and capture another national tournament bid, Lambert would like to believe this team has enough talent to make a 10th consecutive season with an NCAA tournament victory.
“By that time, we would have some experience under our belt,” Lambert said, “but a lot is going to depend on how quickly our young players adapt to the college game.”
As for the possibility of making the tournament and facing off with Mississippi College, another South Region powerhouse who has ended the season and championship dreams of the Maryville squad three consecutive seasons, Lambert just smiled and chuckled, “We’d love another shot. We have a long road before that, but we hope we get another opportunity to play them,” he said.