Men’s and Women’s Basketball Teams Open 2009-10 with High Expectations

Both of Mercer’s basketball teams will begin their preseason tilts this week in what both head coaches hope will be the beginning of great 2009-10 campaigns. The teams tip-off in a double-header exhibition with Georgia College and State University on Thursday, Nov. 5, at the University Center. Tip off for the women’s game will be at 5 p.m. Men’s tip is set for 7:30 p.m.

The men’s team, under second-year head coach Bob Hoffman and looking for its first conference title in 25 years, was chosen to finish third in Atlantic Sun Conference pre-season coaches and media polls. "These polls show people realize what our guys did last year," Hoffman said. "The preseason polls are more about what you did last year and what you have returning for the upcoming year."

The A-Sun coaches picked Jacksonville and Lipscomb to tie (111 votes) for the A-Sun crown while the media chose the Dolphins (328) and Bisons (287) as its top two teams. Mercer received four first place votes from the media and one from the coaches.

Rounding out the coaches’ poll was ETSU (89), Belmont (83), Campbell (72), FGCU and Stetson (43), UNF (30), USC Upstate (28) and Kennesaw State (25). The coaches chose Lipscomb as their tournament champion.

The media penciled in Belmont (252), ETSU (247), Campbell (193), Stetson (127), FGCU (119), Kennesaw State (87), USC Upstate (81), and UNF (71) with Jacksonville taking the conference tournament crown.

Seniors James Florence and Daniel Emerson were chosen to the preseason All-Conference team. Florence, who averaged 20.8 points per game, 3.7 assists per game and 2.3 steals per game last season, was one of four unanimous selections. If he scores 250 points this season, he will become Mercer’s all-time leading scorer, surpassing Mercer Hall of Famer and former NBA coach-of-the-year Sam Mitchell. Florence is also the leading returning scorer in the country, based on points per game.

Emerson led the A-Sun in rebounds last year with 10.7 per game and complemented that with an average of 13 points per game.  If Emerson does earn All-Conference accolades, he will join older brothers, and former Mercer players, Will (2005) and Scott (2003) with the honor.

"These two guys have worked as hard as anyone in the country to put their games at a high level," the second-year head coach said.  "They, like all of our other seniors, are leading well.  When your seniors lead, great things happen."

The women’s basketball team has been picked to finish fifth among Atlantic Sun competition in a pair of pre-season polls conducted by the league’s coaches and the media. Mercer senior guard LaToya Jackson was honored as a pre-season All-Conference player.

“I definitely think fans are going to really enjoy this season,” head coach Janell Jones said. “There are a number of teams that can win at any given time. Being selected fifth is very fair considering the loss of six seniors, but we are extremely pleased and excited for our freshman class. Again, I think it’s going to make for a great season and fans are really going to enjoy watching our team play.”

In the coaches’ poll, Mercer received 66 points, edging out in-state rival Kennesaw State (63). FGCU (112) received six first-place votes and was selected as the favorite to win the conference.

ETSU and Belmont joined FGCU as teams that attracted first place votes from the coaches. ETSU (111) tallied four first-place votes, placing the Lady Bucs second while Belmont (97) garnered a single first-place vote and was picked third.

In the coaches’ poll, Mercer received 66 points, placing the Bears just behind Jacksonville (71). The media poll reflected the coaches’ poll top five, with Mercer (120) edging out Stetson (119) as the fifth-ranked team. In the media poll, FGCU (199) and ETSU (194) were the only teams receiving first-place votes. Both polls favored the Lady Bucs as the team most likely to win the A-Sun tournament.

Mercer’s Jackson earned a spot on the preseason All-Conference team after having a standout season a year ago. Jackson showed the ability to score with ease during her junior campaign. In one five-day stretch, the Oklahoma City, Okla., native poured in 23 points against South Alabama and tallied 19 points against High Point. In both of those games, the guard made five three-point shots and shot 50 percent or better from behind the arc.

In January, Jackson scored a career-high 31 points against Belmont, including 23 points in the second half while shooting 6-of-9 from three-point range. Jackson finished the year with an average of 13.2 points per game and shot 84.8 percent from the charity stripe.

“Latoya is very deserving of her preseason, first-team selection,” said Jones. “Being a three year starter, she has led this team with her outstanding shooting and scoring ability. She has continued to work hard to improve her game and will be a constant force on the court this year.”

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