College basketball practices begin this week, and the ultimate success of each of the area’s Division I programs starts with these players.
Middle Tennessee State
Jason Jones won’t be asked to do it all. That does not mean he won’t try.
Entering his second season at Middle Tennessee State, Jones is the top returning scorer but not the Blue Raiders’ only option for offense. Three of their top four from a year ago also return.
Still, Jones welcomes more responsibility.
“Every team I have played on I have been the go-to man,” he said. “I am trying to be more of a leader this year and a key defensive stopper, let my offense take care of itself, and rebound more.”
Jones (6-foot-6 and 210 pounds) averaged 13.1 points last year and was second on the team with 49 assists. He also had 41 steals.
“He had some games last year where he really got to the rim and got in the open floor,” coach Kermit Davis said. “He had some big games. I think the big thing for Jason is the consistency level, day in and day out.”
On occasion, Vanderbilt center Festus Ezeli forgets how strong he is. That gets him into trouble — foul trouble, to be exact.
Standing at 6-foot-11 and weighing 255 pounds, Ezeli is a force inside. But when the senior struggles to stay on the floor, the Commodores tend to struggle as well.
When the native of Nigeria committed four or more fouls last year, the Commodores were just 8-6. When he fouled out, they went 1-4.
On the flip side, when he had three fouls or fewer, Vanderbilt was an impressive 15-5.
“My role is growing each year. If I can’t be on the court I want it to be because coach [Kevin Stallings] takes me out. I don’t want it to be that we are handicapped because of foul trouble,” Ezeli said. “When you are big and strong, sometimes when you touch somebody you don’t really realize your own strength. I need to get better at that, for sure. The team does need me on the court.”
Jordan Burgason must break a habit this year — and not necessarily a bad one.
For the past three years, the Lipscomb guard has lived behind the 3-point line – successfully, at that. His 211 3-pointers are the most in school history since the Bisons joined the NCAA in 2000.
This season, however, the senior must step outside — or inside — his boundaries, shake off the rust on his dribble drive penetration and get an up-close look at the basket.
“It is something I haven’t used a lot in the college game because I’ve really been able to find my shot just spotting up and just finding the open spaces,” Burgason said. “I really haven’t used it much. Coach [Scott Sanderson] doesn’t like me using it much, either. So that has been hard.”
The 6-foot-3, 190-pound Burgason, one of just two seniors, is the team’s top returning scorer after averaging 10.8 points a year ago when the Bisons finished fourth in the Atlantic Sun Conference.
As the 2010-11 season dragged on, Kenny Moore began to slow down.
Averaging 29 minutes during his first season at Tennessee State — and on the Division I level —
the 6-foot-7, 220-pound Moore noticed a difference by the end of February.
So did TSU coach John Cooper.
“I thought he put on some pounds and got heavy throughout the season,” Cooper said. “One of the things I challenged him is to be in the best physical shape he possibly can be and to be able to show it on both ends of the court.”
A junior-college transfer, Moore led the Tigers in scoring (14.6 points per game), averaged nearly seven rebounds and shot an impressive 40.9 percent from 3-point range. In fact, he ranked third in the league in 3-point percentage.
“I think I can take over any game,” Moore said. “… Every time I step on the floor, my mindset
is that I am the best player on the court.”
Ian Clark doesn’t say much on the court.
“I think certain guys lead in their own ways,” Clark said. “I’m really not a vocal leader. I just try to lead by example and let the way I play speak for itself.”
In 2009-10, the 6-foot-3 shooting guard was the A-Sun freshman of the year when he averaged nearly 15 points a game and shot 40 percent from 3-point range.
Last season, the ball was spread around more as 11 players averaged at least 10 minutes. Clark’s playing time dipped to 24.6 minutes — about five fewer than the year before — but he still hit 42.9 percent of 3-pointers and averaged 12.2 points.
Belmont plans to use a deep bench again with the hope that it will play deeper into March following a first-round NCAA tournament loss last season.
“It is not just getting to the tournament now,” Clark said. “It is more of making some noise in the NCAA Tournament, getting that first win and going from there.”