Team preview: Savannah State

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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)

The honeymoon is guaranteed for new Savannah State coach Horace Broadnax. He cannot fail to improve the Tigers' basketball fortunes.

There is nowhere to go but up.

Last season, the Tigers accomplished the unthinkable -- 28 games, 28 losses. They became the first NCAA Division I team to finish a season winless since Prairie View A&M slogged through an 0-28 season in 1991-92. The next previous team to finish winless without forfeiting any games was The Citadel, which went 0-17 in 1954-55.

The team that endured Savannah State's season of agony included seven scholarship players -- only three of them on full scholarship -- shot 35 percent from the field and lost its average game by the score of 81-58. It ended with the firing of coach Edward Daniels, who complained that he had been "used'' by being asked to schedule too many guarantee games -- almost sure losses at big-time opponents in exchange for large paychecks -- and not seeing a corresponding increase in his budget. He left with a 2-79 record in Savannah State's first three Division I seasons.

From the wreckage of that ugly mess, Broadnax, a practicing attorney who performed a miraculous turnaround as coach at Bethune-Cookman from 1997-2002, will somehow attempt to construct a program. The good news is that it can't get any worse. The bad news is there is no guarantee it will get much better any time soon.

The Tigers will open practice with only three returning players and a mere 11 on the roster. Their leading returning scorer, 6-2 junior guard Mike Bennett, averaged 6.9 points per game. And because Broadnax took over in April -- right about at signing day, his ability to recruit for 2005-06 was extremely limited.

"We did a lot of phone stuff,'' Broadnax said. "We brought in some solid guys and we'll have some young people, which is going to make the situation tough. But if you're just looking at it for a year, you're not putting it in the proper perspective. I think the group that survives from this year is going to be the nucleus of a program for years to come. We're looking for character coming out of this year. Will guys run? Will they fold? Or will they compete? The boys are going to have to become men quickly.''

And that's a tall order, especially for a team that lacks height. The Tigers' tallest player is 6-7, 285-pound forward Austin Davis, and he's a freshman. So is 6-6 Antoine Bronner.

Indeed, the inside game -- such as it is -- will likely be built around another freshman, 6-6 Chris Linton of Jacksonville, Fla.
"He's very athletic, shoots the ball well,'' Broadnax said. "He'll probably play a lot of different positions for us. He's going to be good because of his size. He can probably play inside, and he can play outside. Just looking at him and the things he's capable of doing, I think he might be able to cause some problems.''

He'd better be, because those are the only three players on the roster taller than 6-4. The strength of the Tigers, if there is one, is on the outside, where Broadnax's expertise comes into play. As a player, he was the point guard for the great Georgetown teams led by Patrick Ewing, including the 1984 national championship team.

Which makes it no surprise his recruiting priority from Day One was at the point. He came up with two junior college players he hopes will have the skills and savvy to spark an under-talented team.

"That was my main concern,'' he said. "If you don't have two people who can control the ball and be coaches on the floor, you're going to be in trouble. … If you don't have somebody to run the show, I don't care how good the people around them are, things are going to get kind of screwed up. I think those two guys are going to make an impact.''

Broadnax expects Javon Randolph, a 5-10 junior from Truett-McConnell, to make a splash as a scorer and a passer. Joe Flegler, a 5-9 sophomore, is more of a pure point guard, though he did average 24.7 points per game as a freshman at Southern Maryland.

"[Randolph] can shoot the ball and distribute it, he's quick and he plays defense,'' Broadnax said. "He's going to have a tremendous impact as far as running the show and, if necessary, putting some points on the board. [Flegler] is a small guy, too, quick, probably more of a distributor. He can run the offense and get everybody else involved. He can penetrate. In JUCO he was required to try to score, but we hope he doesn't need to put up that many points here.''

For that to be the case, he'll have to get some help from a group of perimeter hopefuls led by returnees Bennett, 5-10 sophomore Alvin Edwards (2.6 ppg, 2.0 apg) and 6-4 sophomore Chauncey Shaw (1.6 ppg, 1.2 rpg). That group also includes newcomers Malik Heney, a 5-10 junior; Terry Hill, a 6-3 freshman; and 6-3 freshman Andre Douglas.

With luck, Broadnax will find enough ability and depth in that crew to play the style he wants, the running, pressing game he learned at Georgetown. More likely, he will be forced to make do with what he has -- there's no Ewing guarding the goal to make up for any mistakes -- and try to build a foundation to grow on for the future.

That's the way he played it at Bethune-Cookman, where he turned a team that finished 1-26 in his first season to a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference regular-season title in his third.

"I've got to look at it as a building process, because if I look at it as trying to turn it around in one year, I'll be putting too much pressure on myself,'' Broadnax said. "We've got the ghosts of the past to overcome. I want to win all 28 games, but in reality, I want to teach these guys as much as I can and place as many demands on them as I can but still realize we have a long way to go.''


Given their size limitations, the Tigers will have to run. The problem is, they don't have the horses. That emphasizes their weakness inside, especially on the boards. Unless junior college point guards Randolph and Flegler are the real deal -- and they can drag their teammates with them down the court -- it will be another long season in Savannah.

"We'll be strong on the perimeter, but we'll be very small,'' Broadnax said. "Hopefully, we'll be able to get up the floor quickly and people won't be able to exploit us size-wise. Hopefully, we'll exploit them on offense by being smaller and quicker.''

That, however, is a lot of hoping, and Broadnax knows it. He'll have to graft together a team filled with inexperienced players and hope for the best against a killer schedule filled with the dreaded guarantee games, including trips to Pacific, Oregon, Georgia, Texas A&M, SMU, Colorado, Tulane and Florida. The Tigers will have only eight home games.

"It's definitely going to be a tough year,'' he said. "It's going to be tough just to get chemistry. I definitely like to get up and down. In an ideal situation, you would like to have guys who could do that -- guys who can shoot it, a couple point guards who can play the defense and extend it to fullcourt or halfcourt, play the trap. Coming into your first year, though, we don't have all the pieces in. ...

"I'll have to evaluate the talent as a group and try to quickly determine how these guys are going to play and what they're going to play in. We might want to run, but we may have turtles. You can't run with turtles.''

For the most comprehensive previews on all 326 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 25th anniversary edition of Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbook.com or call 1-866-805-BALL (2255).