NEWBERRY, S.C. - The 2008-09 edition of the Newberry College men's basketball team will get its first chance to perform for the public tomorrow, as the scarlet and gray travel to Greenville to take on the Paladins of Furman University. Friday's tipoff is set for 7 p.m. at Timmons Arena on the Furman campus.
"Any time you get a chance to play a Division I team, it's a good experience for your team," said Newberry head coach Jeremy Luther. "If you play a team from the highest division, who should be better than you, it can only make you better."
Newberry, which finished 12-16 overall and 5-9 in the South Atlantic Conference, returns all five starters from last year's team, as well as a solid crop of transfers and freshmen. The scarlet and gray are predicted to finish fourth in SAC play this season, according to the coaches' preseason poll.
"The three things we'll be looking for tomorrow night are emotion, effort and energy," Luther said. "Our effort for 40 minutes each game is one of our big focal points this year, and that starts at Furman. It will be fun to see how our kids react to the environment and the challenge, but the effort will be the most important part. I'm really excited that Furman is hosting us, and we're looking forward to a good game."
Leading Newberry's returning players is First Team all-South Atlantic Conference selection Clemente Martin (Freeport, Bahamas). Martin led the team with 18.9 points per game last season and was the SAC statistical champion in steals per game. Also returning is junior forward Kendrick Johnson (Orangeburg, S.C.), who is the leading shot-blocker in Newberry College history, despite playing in only three semesters thus far. He is ranked 10th in conference history in blocked shots, and could move as high as second in that category this season.
Starters Vytautas Valiulis (Vilnius, Lithuania), Matt Alexander (Norcross, Ga.) and Stephane Bakinde (Yaounde, Cameroon) also return, as well as SAC all-Freshman team honoree Grant Domsic (Winter Garden, Fla.), who averaged over 10 points a game in his debut season.
The Paladins return eight players with starting experience from a 2007-08 squad that went 7-23 overall and 6-14 in Southern Conference play. This year's Paladin squad, picked to finish fifth in the SoCon South Division by the league's 12 head coaches, features six freshmen, six sophomores and just two seniors.
Third-year head coach Jeff Jackson welcomes the return of 6-foot-10 senior Alex Opacic who led the team in both scoring and rebounding a year ago. The Paladins also return SoCon All-Freshman selection Justin Dehm. The Peoria, Ill., product poured in 10.4 points per game while shooting 38.0% from beyond the arc last season.
Fans can follow tomorrow night's action via live statistics, which will be available on www.FurmanPaladins.com .
Newberry begins the regular season on Saturday, November 15, at St. Andrews Presbyterian College in Laurinburg, N.C. The home opener comes on Wednesday, November 19, against Erskine College.