Hope springs eternal in the Cougar camp as there will be 10 new faces to go along with the two returning players from a year ago. Travis Jones and Jameico McPherson will be the only familiar faces available to Cigliano, but the coach is very excited about the possibilities and the potential of his newcomers.
Former Tyner Ram Jones will return to lead the team at the point guard position and will try to improve on his freshman campaign during which he gathered All-Conference honors and averaged 17 points a game.
“Travis had an outstanding second half and tournament last year and he has picked right up where he left off,” explained Cigliano. “He is our leader and I look for him to have a big year. We will look for Jameico to provide a lift for us off the bench and also help Travis and step into that leadership role.”
The Cougars are excited to have Ralph Eason in the backcourt to start alongside Jones after transferring from Mott Community College last year and playing his high school ball at Butler High in Huntsville, Alabama. The 6-foot-1 guard was a key cog in helping Mott win the DII Junior College National Tournament where he averaged 25-plus points per game on the biggest stage.
“We are very fortunate to have Ralph with us this year,” the coach continued. “Ralph will complement T.J. very well in the backcourt; he is very athletic, a slasher and scorer. His playmaking ability and general floor presence will make us a better team.”
Another starter will be freshman sharp-shooter Gabe Dando from Alcoa High school. Kahan Swift (6-2) a freshman from Jackson Southside and Trey Suttles (6-3) a running mate of Jones at Tyner in Chattanooga will round out the starting five and will wade into the paint for the Cougars.
“Gabe has been very steady in practice and he will only improve as he adjusts to the speed and athletic ability at this level,” said Cigliano. “Kahan (pronounced Kane) is relentless in his hustle and he will be that guy that gives us all the little things inside that we need to be successful. Trey is probably our best back-to-the-basket player. His intelligence and savvy will take him a long way.”
Filipe Goncalves, a native of Brazil by way of Hamilton Heights High School, will be one of the first Cougars off the bench for coach Cigliano. Goncalves has been impressive in early practice, but was slowed by a wrist injury. Tim Triplett from Memphis’ Kirby High School will be another backcourt option.
The Cougars will use a four-man rotation in the paint as Xavier Okoro (6-4) and Tre Everette (6-2) both from Lawrenceville, Ga., will be counted on heavily to rebound and guard the generally much taller league competition.
There will one more familiar face on the Cougars’ bench this season as longtime coach L.J. Kilby will help roam the sidelines, guiding players and pestering the officials.
“We are very pleased to have L.J. back at Cleveland State,” stated Cigliano. “He brings a wealth of experience to the table, and he has already made an impact in his relationships with the kids, so we are fortunate to have him.
“The challenge so far is having everybody here and ready to practice at the same time,” Cigliano continued. “The flu, injuries, transcripts, grades — you name it and someone has missed valuable practice time. That said, our scrimmages have gone well. We have hustled, battled and been competitive against some very good teams.
“These things slow you down and slow the progress of team chemistry. I do see signs of them coming together and doing the little things to be competitive in the upper echelon of our conference.”