By Joshua Parrott, Sports Writer
For the most part, change is a good thing.
For the men’s basketball program, change is a wonderful, welcomed thing.
Looking to ascend from the depths of the Lone Star Conference South Division with the return of three starters, most notably second team all-LSC guard Rodney Lee, and a new coach in Klint Pleasant, the Wildcats open the regular season Friday in a non-conference game against Howard Payne at 8 p.m. in Moody Coliseum.
Howard Payne, a Division III school in Brownwood, was picked to win the West Division in the American Southwest Conference and features the West Division Pre-season Player of the Year, Benny West, who averaged nearly 19 points, nine rebounds and more than three steals last season.
Lee, who averaged 13.6 points per game last season as a sophomore, will be looked at to extend opposing defenses with his stellar long-range shooting and be the first option on offense as the Wildcats look to improve upon last season’s 7-19 disappointment.
Junior Tucker Pierson, who was recruited to play on the wing out of high school, will move down to the low block this season for the undersized Wildcats.
Jeff Johnson, a redshirt sophomore who played his prep ball at Abilene High, will team with Pierson, sophomore Calvin Nite and redshirt freshman Drexel Johnson in the post for ACU. The Cats were outrebounded by opponents by more than seven boards a game last year. Defense is also a concern, as the Wildcats allowed opponents to shoot .455 from the field.
Pierson, who averaged 10.5 points per game to go along with a team-leading 5.8 rebounds, spent his off-season living and working out with junior guard Ryan Coleman in the Houston area. He said he is in the best shape of his career, but his conditioning isn’t the only thing to be utilized by Pleasant’s strategy of running up and down the court.
According to Pierson, everyone stepped up over the summer but that two teammates have made some of the biggest strides from last season.
“There’s no one that you can say just outworked everyone else over the summer, but I would say Jeff (Johnson) and Ryan (Coleman) have made some big improvements,” Pierson said.
With the arrival of a true point guard in junior college transfer Cliff Green, Coleman won’t have the pressure he has shouldered the previous two seasons, needing to bring the ball up the floor, starting the offense and shooting the ball consistently from three-point range.
Coleman, who started 16 games as a freshman walk-on two years ago, started only eight games last season and saw his points per game average drop from more than eight a night to four.
Coleman said he is ready for the season to start.
“I’m really excited because in the past we didn’t really have a true point guard,” Coleman said. “Everything in the past was set around me bringing the ball up the floor. It’s a whole lot easier not having to worry about that and just playing defense and concentrating on my shot.”
Green, whose dazzling full-court presence will allow the Wildcats to feature a three-guard attack from time to time, is a true point guard eager to get his teammates involved.
Green said there is no learning curve when it comes to his approach to winning.
“To me, there’s no learning to win,” said Green, whose teams in high school (Lanier High in Mississippi) and junior college (Brown Mackie) were among the best in the nation. “Where I’m coming from, you try to win first.”
Green led the Wildcats to a dominant exhibition victory over the International Sports Federation with a near triple-double (20 assists, 10 points and nine steals). Green said the younger players must step up as much as the returning players. A.J Porterfield, a 6-foot-2 freshman guard from New Mexico, is one of those younger players.
Green also said that he doesn’t care that the Wildcats were picked to finish last in the LSC South Division and that he wouldn’t be satisfied anything less than 15 wins.
“Coach Pleasant is one of the best coaches I’ve ever been coached by,” Green said. “We just need to get everyone to believe we can win.”