By Doug Gorman
(Editor's Note: A preview on tonight's men's game appears on page 7.)
When Clayton State women's basketball coach A.C. McCullers recruits players to join the Lady Lakers basketball program, he looks for more than just talented shooters and rebounders.
He also demands his players have a love for hard-nosed competition.
That's an important quality for any basketball player hoping to survive the rigors of playing in the Peach Belt Conference, arguably one of the toughest NCAA Division II conferences in the country.
This current group of Clayton State basketball players has bought into the system. Through their first 12 games, Clayton State has posted a 9-3 schedule.
Clayton State's most recent victory came in a 77-42 win on the road at Newberry Monday night.
"I am very pleased with the way we are playing right now," said McCullers. "We have been working very hard."
Now, however, the hard part starts as the Lady Lakers begin their run through the conference schedule when they open Peach Belt Conference play at home tonight in a 5:30 p.m. tip off against North Florida.
North Florida brings an 11-0 record into the first PBC game of the season for both teams as well as a No. 2 nationally ranking in the latest NCAA Division II poll.
"They don't have too many weak spots in their game," said McCullers.
North Florida also has senior Skye Barber, last year's PBC Player of the Year, back in its starting lineup.
Barber has picked up where she left off last year, averaging a little more than 15 points per game.
A year ago, the two teams split their two-game series, with Clayton State winning at home in a 57-47 decision. North Florida ended up advancing to the Elite 8 of the NCAA Division II tournament.
One of the keys to this year's early-season success for the Lady Lakers has been team chemistry.
"This is a great group," said McCullers. "They pull of each other to succeed. When somebody gets down, there is somebody their to pull them back up. The parents of these players have raised a great group of young women."
On the court, Clayton State is benefiting from balanced scoring. Three players are averaging in double figures for Lady Lakers with Jamika Hindsman leading the way with a 12.6 average. Brandi Catia (11.5) and Apryl Brown (10.0) are also averaging double figures. Carlie Anderson is averaging 9.8 points per game.
Brown is also the school's top rebounder with an 8.1 average.
The Lady Lakers have also relied on the 3-point shot this season, hitting 56 of their attempts from long range.
Anderson is the team's most proficient 3-point shooter, draining 26 of her 60 attempts.
During the recently completed Arrowhead Tournament, Clayton State tied a school record with 10 treys against St. Pauls.
After tonight's game against nationally ranked North Florida, it doesn't get any easier for the Lady Lakers.
They go on the road for three straight PBC contests. On Saturday, Jan. 10, CCSU plays at Francis Marion (6-2). The Lady Lakers then play at Armstrong State (9-2) on Wednesday, Jan. 14, and at Lander (8-2) on Saturday, Jan. 17.
Closing in on a milestone: McCullers has won a lot of basketball games in his career as a coach at both the high school and college level--699 to be exact.
McCullers won 648 games and four state titles as head coach at Morrow High School.
He has won 51 games as head coach at CCSU.