By Doug Gorman
After winning both of its exhibition games, the dress rehearsal is over for the Clayton State's men's basketball team.
Last Sunday, the Lakers beat VASDA, a touring team of former college basketball players, 85-76.
Darien Chavis added 20, Craig Butts 19 and B.J. Puckett 10 en route to the victory.
Freshman and former Lovejoy standout Michael Sloan added 7 points for CCSU.
Now, the Lakers can begin thinking about the upcoming 2004-2005 season ? a campaign full of optimism for head coach Gordon Gibbons' basketball team.
A year ago, Clayton State was 22-8. It was the Lakers' third straight year with 20 or more wins. The team has turned its own gym into a decidedly home-court advantage, as the it posted a 14-1 record during the 2003-2004 season.
Several preseason polls list the Lakers among the best in the NCAA Division II ranks. They join fellow Peach Belt Conference foe and defending NCAA Division II national champion Kennesaw State as one of the teams to beat in the league.
Friday afternoon the Lakers begin their 2003-2004 campaign for real when they begin play in the Disney NIT Tip-Off Tournament in Orlando.
Clayton State opens the tournament against Indiana-Pennsylvania University.
The early-season event is one of the most prestigious for NCAA Division II programs.
"To be invited to play in the Disney Tip-Off says a lot for our program," said head coach Gordon Gibbons. "It will be an opportunity for us to play on a national stage against several of the top teams in Division II. IPU has one of the top basketball programs in the country, advancing to the Elite Eight in 2002 and 2000."
Clayton State returns home Tuesday evening for a game against Reinhardt, an NAIA team which finished 22-14 last year.
The Lakers have 30 games on the schedule this year, including playing host to tournaments around Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Clayton State won't play its first game in the Peach Belt Conference until Wednesday, Jan. 7 at Francis Marion.