By Doug Gorman
A year ago, the Clayton State men's basketball team started the season with a 9-0 record and a spot in the national rankings.
It looked like it was going to be a banner year for head coach Gordon Gibbons' club.
But a 6-14 record down the stretch turned the Lakers' fast start into a major disappointment as the team ended the year 15-14 overall and a 7-13 mark in Peach Belt Conferece action.
It also led Gibbons, who has won more than 400 games as a Division II head coach, including 155 at Clayton State to make a promise:
"What I told the remaining players in a meeting after the season, and what I told our recruits, we are not going to finish in the middle of the pack in this league (the Peach Belt Conference), anymore." Gibbons stated.
The veteran coach won't be satisfied with anything but contending for conference titles and making it to the NCAA tournament.
The rest of the league agrees, at least this year. The Lakers are picked second behind NCAA Division II power Augusta State in the 13 team league. If all goes as expected, the Lakers should return to the NCAA Division II tournament.
Their last appearance in the event was in 2008 when they advanced to the Sweet 16 before losing to Augusta State,
"I was shocked," Gibbons said "I just didn't think based on how we finished last year, and that we lost five seniors, we would be picked that high but the word out there is we had a very good recruiting class. We have attacked this season with the goal of winning championships. In order to win championships in Division II. you have to be ready to go out of the gate"
The Lakers' high expectations are due to a mix of veteran players and top newcomers, which could give Gibbons the luxury of playing 10 or 11 players each night.
Returning senior starters Jasquas Dobbs (8.5 points per game) and Morrrow graduate Eric Wilson (3.6 ppg) return for their final season of college basketball.
Sophomore Torrine Green, who led North Clayton High School to the Final Four as a senior, is expected to see more playing time after averaging 1.7 points per game last year.
Junior Jonathan Austin (2.4 ppg) and sophomore Michael Thorogood (2.3 ppg) also saw playing time last year.
Eight newcomers are expected to help the Lakers via for a Peach Belt title, including senior and Division I transfer Robert Murry, who played at Morehead State.
Germeil Daniels, Tim Downs, Armon Jones, Luvonte Rhines, Brandon Robinson, Shasta Scott and Willie Walker all come to Clayton State as juniors.
After going 1-1 in exhibition games with a win over Martinque and a loss to Baseline USA, the Lakers open their season with a game at home Sunday against Edward Waters.
Tip-off for the contest is set for 5 p.m.
Edward Waters College, an NAIA team from Jacksonville, Fla, comes into the contest with eight games under its belt.
Sunday's game is the first of five straight at home for Clayton State.
Next Saturday, Clayton State faces a huge test when the seventh-ranked Valodsta State Blazers come to town.
Carver (December 1), Truett-McConnell (December 3) and UNC-Pembroke (December 5) in the Peach Belt Conference opener close out the home stand for the Lakers.
Clayton State then plays two straight road games Clark Atlanta (December 12) and PBC rival Augusta State (December 15).
The Lakers return home for games against Shaw (December 18) and Southern Tech (December 21) to close out a busy home slate in December.
Clayton State also plays in the Winter Park Rotary/Tangerine Tournament on December 29-30 to close out the first month of the season.
"It's good to have so many games at home early, but the drawback is we will go on the road for some key games at the end of the season," Gibbons said.
The complete CSU men's schedule is set for 7:30 p.m.