Team preview: Jackson State

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2012-13 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.


The pieces began falling fast. First, Jenirro Bush, Jackson State's leading scorer and the SWAC's preseason pick for Player of the Year, was lost in mid-January with a torn Achilles' tendon. Then, Christian Williams went down with an ankle injury.

That shifted considerable heat on redshirt freshman Kelsey Howard to carry the offensive load. The 6-3 Howard (14.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg) flourished -- though what was lost and little known is that Howard, too, was playing hurt. He broke his left hand early in the season and played the remainder of the year virtually one-handed. He still wound up being selected the SWAC's freshman of the year.

The good news this season is that Williams and Howard appear healthy for Jackson State coach Tevester Anderson. He's hoping that can add a boost to a flailing offense, which produced a mere 56 points a game, getting outscored by an average margin of almost 10 points.

"We feel like we should be better than last year," Anderson said. "Bush got hurt midway last year and then our next-best player, Christian Williams, tore his ankle up. We lost our two leading scorers and we started three freshmen who all should be better players now. Kelsey Howard stepped up and played well. We'll need to run an up-tempo game. We can't match up size-wise with a lot of teams. We will play three sometimes maybe four guards."

Jackson State Tigers

Howard has his own incentives. He finished as the Tigers' second-leading scorer and proved to be a solid defender. This season, he will be the main focus of Jackson State's offense. Still, despite being his freshman-of-the-year accolades, he was shut out of the all-conference teams.

"Kelsey Howard could have gone anywhere," Anderson said. "Had he been an AAU guy, he could have gone to some other schools; he's that good of a player. People didn't realize he played with a broken left hand all of last year. He's a talented kid and he showed me how tough he is playing with a broken hand. He's a good defender, too."

Anderson would like to see Howard take the ball to the basket more, though the broken hand may have had something to do with a reluctance to draw too much contact.

A wildcard enters into the backcourt mix this season. Joining the 6-2 senior Williams (11.0 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 2.4 apg) and Howard is 5-11 junior guard Dundrecous Nelson, a transfer from Ole Miss who was dismissed for breaking team rules, which came a day after he was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia.

Nelson averaged 11.5 points a game and led the Rebels with 20 steals before he was booted from the team. He's a shoot-first point guard who can create, and can kick out to Williams, who is the team's best shooter.

"I think Kelsey is a future pro, and we could have three guys in the backcourt for us that may be the best trio of guards that we ever had here," Anderson said. "I think they could all play at the upper level of Division I basketball. I expect Nelson to help us a lot. He shoots well; he's a good defender. He reminds me a lot of Lindsey Hunter.

"I don't want to make a lot of him right now. [but] we feel like our backcourt will be our strength. We have to find a way to utilize it well. If we can, we can be a pretty good basketball team."

Adding depth to the backcourt will be 5-10 senior Travis Ballard, 6-3 senior Tim Kendricks and 5-10 senior Jonathan Lewis. They're role players who could help defensively, especially Ballard, who may fit into Anderson's top-eight rotation.

Up front, Anderson will need 6-7 sophomore forward Sydney Coleman (3.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg), who started as a freshman, to improve. Coleman works well in transition, though he could stand to handle the ball better and Anderson would like to see him become a better passer.

Senior Raymond Gregory (2.1 ppg, 1.3 rpg) will also be looked upon to play a greater role. The 6-9 center is sound around the rim, though Anderson needs him to become a better rebounder. "We hope so," Anderson said. "Raymond is not a gym rat, but we expect to get the ball inside more. I want him to play with his back to the basket more. He's a great kid with decent hands, but he has to become more aggressive around the basket."

Rebounding was a sore spot for the Tigers in 2011-12; they were outrebounded 717-to-658 on the defensive glass. Maybe 6-6 junior forward Willie Readus (5.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg) can help in that area. He's a wide body and a good around the basket. He's dropped some pounds and enters this season in much better shape.

Derrell Taylor, a 6-5 sophomore, may be asked to take a different role. Taylor (3.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg) started as a freshman and returns as the team's best rebounder -- as a guard. Anderson thinks he could become a special player with a frontcourt role.

Fifth-year senior Davon Jones (3.5 ppg, 3.1 rpg) is a lefty who proved to be solid around the basket, though he needs to add some weight to his 6-8 frame to help the Tigers' inside game.

True freshmen Kendall Deese, a 6-1 guard, and Kenneth Taylor, a 6-4 guard, could see minutes as the season progresses.






Everyone in the Tigers' backcourt can score. What Anderson needs is one player that can get to the rim. It could be Howard, it could be Nelson. Anderson will need to find a way for the two to co-exist. If the veteran coach can get some balance and cohesion from that pair, and Williams' consistent outside shooting, along with some interior defense and rebounding, the Tigers could finish in the upper level of the SWAC.

"We were in every conference game last year except two," Anderson said. "Interior productivity will be our biggest challenge. With our style of play, hopefully it won't be as big a challenge as we see on paper."

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2012-13 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.