Bob Hoffman, left, coaches the new-look Bears during a timeout of an exhibition game.
First-year head coach Bob Hoffman in 2008-09 returns to the collegiate sidelines after a three-year absence, looking to bring his successful high-octane offensive philosophy to the University Center hardwood. Ironically, it may not be offense but rather defense that keys the Bears’ success this season.
It may come as somewhat of a surprise coming from a coach known for his prolific scoring teams in the NBA Developmental League, the American Basketball Association and at Oklahoma Baptist, but the top Bear believes defense, versatility and chemistry will be the Bears’ strengths during the 2008-09 campaign.
Buoyed by the return of seven lettermen, including three starters from a year ago, Hoffman also has the benefit of drawing on the talents of redshirt junior Daniel Emerson, who sat out last season after transferring from Western Kentucky. Mercer’s roster lists only one senior after having three a year ago, but Hoffman has players returning who accounted for nearly half of the team’s starting assignments, were three of the squad’s top five scorers and the team’s top rebounder and shot-blocker.
Returning senior forward Calvin Henry started all 30 games last season, and returning junior guard James Florence started 28 contests, and was the team’s top scorer, ranking second in the conference. Returning sophomore guard Mark Hall started nine games, including the final seven contests. Forwards BeJay Corley (junior) and Brian Mills (sophomore) each saw action in all 30 contests, with Corley notching three starting assignments. Retuning junior guards Michael Ellis and Brendan Walker provide additional experience.
“We will be able to mix things up because we have smart guys that understand the game,” Hoffman said of his current team. “Their basketball IQ is high.”
“We have a lot of versatility - a lot of options,” Hoffman added. “Our big guys run the floor really well and we have interchangeable parts. I am a strong believer that the more you have guys that can play multiple positions, the harder you are to guard and prepare for - and the more we can do as coaches with them out on the court. And we possess the ability to stretch defenses because we have the luxury of lot of guys that can shoot the ball well. They can run the floor well and put pressure on defenses by stretching them.”
One of the keys to Mercer’s success this season will be the coaches’ ability to blend six newcomers with the veterans.
“Our guys are really focused and we’re building a chemistry based on treating each other right and not just on winning and losing,” Hoffman said. “We want to have the right mindset of who we want to be collectively as a team and what we want to represent. This team is coachable and they’ve done a great job of listening to coaching, and that is a tremendous place for a team to be.”
“We want to get better everyday,” said the Bears’ head coach. “We have to continue to find ways to individually and collectively get better. It’s a process. Winning is a by-product of doing things right and you cannot expect to achieve miracles if you aren’t daily making good deposits to get the great return.”
Hoffman’s first slate at the helm of the program will be challenging, with five meetings versus opponents who reached the postseason in 2007-08.
Non-conference contests at powerhouses UCLA, Oklahoma State, Alabama, Iowa State, Dayton and Auburn, along with a homecoming contest against Georgia Tech in the University Center on Nov. 22, and the third annual Chicago Invitational Challenge highlight Mercer’s schedule.
“I believe we are playing one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country,” Hoffman added. “We will get tested and stretched in every way. We’ll see every kind of offense and defense because of the strength of our schedule.”
“I am most looking forward to the competition,” Hoffman concluded. “I want to see where we stack up. The non-conference schedule will be tough and will help us get prepared for the conference, which will be competitive. But the three games at the end - the conference tournament- is what you play for. Win three games then and you go to the NCAA tournament.”
The 2008-09 Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament will be held March 4-7 in Nashville, Tenn., hosted by Lipscomb for the second consecutive season.