KEY PLAYERS LOST
The Flames will be trying to replace a first-team NAIA All-American, an SSAC All-Division point guard and a 6-foot-10 post player. Will Barnes scored 20 points per game in leading Lee to a 30-4 season and an eighth consecutive trip to the NAIA National Tournament. He shot more than 40 percent from 3-point range and 78 percent from the charity stripe.
Duran Blue was a quality point guard with speed to burn. He dished off 152 assists last season and turned the basketball over just 63 times. He also averaged 10 points per game and shot 43 percent from behind the 3-point line.
Big Steve Bennett averaged 10 points and eight boards in 30 games. He shot 61 percent from the field. Also missing will be Chase Dunn (12.1 ppg) and Jamorris Gaines, who averaged almost 15 points and five boards in 22 games. He was a third-team All-American.
KEY PLAYERS RETURNING
The list is small when it comes to this category. Corey Billingsley started four games last season, but played in all 34. He averaged 8.5 ppg and three rebounds. A versatile player, the junior could stroke the 3-ball, knocking down 43 percent of his 72 attempts. He’s off to a quick start, averaging almost 20 ppg in three starts.
Chad Lee also started only four contests, but saw 791 minutes of playing time. The 6-foot-6 junior has added some muscle and expects to improve on all phases of his game. He averaged just over five points, but claimed 6.5 rebounds per game.
Brice Sharp is looking to stay healthy as he enters his senior season. Sharp sat out the 2012-13 season with leg problems. At 6-foot-3 he’s a lockdown defender and an all-around physical athlete. Muniru Bawa is an intimidating figure with is 7-foot, 230-pound frame. The native of Tuma, Ghana, is still learning the game, but coach Brown is hoping he will be ready to step in and help a club that needs a big made in the middle of the defense. He appeared in 30 games and played 246 minutes last season. Also returning is guars Evan Forhetz (21 games, no starts).
Valentino Thomas, a versatile 6-foot-4 player who can operate inside or out, is a transfer from Roane State Community College. He is playing a key role in the success of the 2013-14 squad. Tyquan Roberts is another transfer who has stepped in and played key minutes. Roberts is a solid 6-foot-5, 250 pound inside player from Louisburg Community College (N.C.) Jay Marquette is another 6-foot-5 transfer. He played at Owens Community College in Rossford, Ohio, and has joined with Chad Lee and Roberts to give the Flames a solid inside force.
Also seeking playing time will be Jamal Worthington (6-foot-1) Bledsoe County; Stedmon Ford (5-foot-10) Chattanooga; Jervon Johnson (6-foot-4) Chattanooga; and Garrett Mullinicks (5-foot-9) of McEwen and a transfer from Faulkner University. A former Bradley Central basketball and football standout, Bryce Copeland, is also battling for a share of playing time.
STRENGTHS OF 2013-14 SQUAD
Coach Brown says this year’s squad lacks the size of teams he has featured in the past. Last year’s team took 725 3-points shots and made more than 38 percent of the attempts. This club will likely shoot more treys and need to make a higher percentage as the Flames face the rugged competition from the Gulf South. “This team has a tremendous work ethic so far and should be a fun team to watch,” said Brown.
The squad has already shown some toughness and the ability to knock down 3-point shots. Brown admits he is worried about the team’s overall lack of size and rebounding power as it pushes into the new league.
MOVE TO THE GULF SOUTH
Before the season began, the Flames realized the overall quality of the GSC will be much better than the Southern States Athletic Conference. “We’ll have to play our best ever in each single game to win,” stressed the Lee coach. “Everyone is very talented and it is an extremely difficult and deep conference.”
TOP TEAMS IN GULF SOUTH
Brown says North Alabama has everyone returning from a good team last season. He sees Alabama-Huntsville as being really good in recent years. “They are always going to challenge and are very well coached. All Lee followers know that Shorter always has good talent.” He ranks North Alabama, Huntsville and Christian Brothers as the clubs to beat.
The Flames opened the 2013-14 season against opponents from outside the GSC, but three were against longstanding rivals, Tennessee Temple (exhibition), Bryan and Tennessee Wesleyan. Lee will also host Johnson University and Truett-McConnell and will be traveling to Young Harris, Ga., for games against the host team and North Georgia before opening GSC play. Being 3-0 is the type of start Brown and his staff hoped for.
“It is very important that we get off to a good start because we have so many new players who will be playing significant minutes,” said Brown. “We need to improve and learn from every game, especially during the early games, so the new guys can have a firm grasp of the system and what is expected of them when it is time for conference games.”