Mercer’s men’s and women’s basketball teams will start the season this month with several new faces, including a new women’s coaching staff, led by Susie Gardner, and eight new players on the men’s side.
The 2010-11 season marks a new era in Mercer women’s basketball with Gardner at the reins for the first time. A highly decorated coach, Gardner has spent the last seven seasons at the University of Arkansas and the University of Florida.
Building a contender at Mercer is a welcome challenge for Gardner, who has made transforming basketball programs a trademark quality throughout her 24 years as a head coach. In 1996, Gardner assumed the reigns of an Austin Peay program that had posted a 59-103 record in the previous five seasons. By the end of her stint with the Lady Governors, the team had won three-straight Ohio Valley Conference tournaments.
The 2010-11 Bears feature just two upperclassmen and only five players who have seen significant playing time at the Division I level. Half of Mercer’s dozen players aim to touch a collegiate basketball court for the first time this season.
Senior Kourtney Carter and junior Neicey Lewis are the lone returning starters from last year’s team that finished 14-16 (11-9 A-Sun). Carter and Lewis will be called upon to anchor the young squad that was picked ninth and eighth, respectively, in the Atlantic Sun preseason coaches and media polls.
Five players return for their sophomore campaign in orange and black, highlighted by Sharmesia Smith and Alex Phillips. Last season, Smith saw action in 28 games and earned a start in five contests. In just her second collegiate game, Smith netted 13 points and collected six rebounds in a road win at Charleston Southern. All told, Smith finished the season with 87 points and 51 boards.
Phillips appeared in 25 contests last season, averaging 2.3 rebounds and 1.8 points per game. Phillips proved to be an impact player on the defensive end, finishing the season ranked 12th in the league in blocked shots per game (0.72). Phillips was one of just three freshmen to rank among the league’s top-15 shot blockers.
Joining Smith and Phillips as returning sophomores are Kendra Grant, Keema Blakney and Amber Chatmon. Grant saw playing time in 25 games last season, while Blakney played in five contests. Chatmon looks to suit up for her first game for the Bears this season.
Mercer welcomes a quintet of fresh faces in 2010-11, each with an opportunity to make an immediate impact on the team. Forward Brittnee Hazel and guards Ariel Barnes, Sharnea Boykin, Rebecca Clanton, Briana Williams comprise Gardner’s freshman class.
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Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman – beginning his third campaign at the helm – welcomed a roster of 18 players to open the 2010-11 season. Among the group are eight returning players from the 2009-10 roster, two redshirt freshmen and eight newcomers (seven freshmen and one junior transfer).
“We have our work cut out for us,” said Hoffman. “There are other teams returning more experienced players than we do, so it’s only right that they are the favorites in pre-season polls. We have to prove ourselves and they don’t.
“But what others don’t see that I do is the tremendous potential of our team. With the core group of returnees, our success is really going to boil down to how well the newcomers mesh and grow into our system. Basketball is a lot like chemistry: it’s all about ingredients and time.”
In all, Mercer is looking to replace 68 percent of its scoring, 61 percent of its rebounding and 69 percent of its three-point productivity from 2009-10.
Heading the 2010-11 cast is the quartet of seniors Brian Mills, Mark Hall, Jeff Smith, and Brandon Moore. Mills and Hall are each in their fourth seasons with the Bears’ program, while Smith and Moore were junior college transfers to the team last season.
Hoffman’s newcomers to the 2010-11 roster add more than just some great basketball potential: they add size. The Bears’ lineup for the upcoming season will be one of its largest – in terms of both height and breadth – in recent memory.
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