Basketball season is here.
Games, not just practice.
Bryan College visits Tennessee Temple University for a doubleheader this afternoon, beginning with the women's game at 2, and Lee University hosts Tennessee Wesleyan tonight at 7 in a bold season opener matching two preseason top-20 NAIA teams.
Brac Brady, new to the area from Maine, will direct his first Temple men's game against Don Rekoske's ninth set of Lions, who will host Hiwassee on Monday night. And Brady has been pleased with his bunch.
"Coming into this job, I felt like maybe I'd have to work to get them to work hard every day and I'd have a selling job to get them to buy into my system," he said this week, "but it's been just the opposite. The guys have given great effort on a daily basis and have totally bought into the scheme."
Brady is counting on 6-foot-1 senior Jarrett Smith to "set the tone as our lead guard, and I've really enjoyed coaching him so far. He plays hard all the time."
Weedlens Beauvil, a sophomore returner from last year's 15-16 team, will be at the other guard and must shoot well, Brady noted, especially since "shooting might become our Achilles' heel," and the coach is counting on leadership also from seniors such as wings Joe Quinn and Jordan Brown. The 7-2 senior John Riek, who began his collegiate career at Mississippi State, doesn't fit smoothly into the Crusaders' preferred "get up and down" offense and pressure defense but will provide an intimidating presence at times.
Junior transfers John Jones and Hampton Mack, the latter following Brady from Maine-Machias, are capable posts at 6-9 and 6-6, and 6-8 Rashaud Bell from the Louisiana-Monroe football program should provide effective minutes as the season progresses. Junior point guard Corey Sanders from Brainerd will help when he gets over an injury, and Dorian Smith is another potential upperclass contributor, while the top freshmen appear to be point guard P.J. Whittaker from Smyrna (Tenn.) High School and 6-2 guard Travaris Clarke from Chicago.
Lady Crusaders coach Kenrick Liburd is convinced his team will significantly improve on last year's 9-23 record. He has four starters returning in senior guard Amber Charles, junior guard Kirsten Fowler, junior forwards Jessica Salera and Alexis McGhee.
Coming from the volleyball team are returning junior guard LaQuinta Gallishaw and Lynncoya Gardner, a senior guard who didn't play basketball in 2011-12 but did the year before.
"It will be a big disappointment if we don't finish at least .500," Liburd said, citing the arrival of Dalton's Amanda Rector from North Georgia State to play point guard and 6-5 freshman Jess Shilito from England as significant additions. He's also looking for good things from redshirt freshman Tia Watt from Hamilton Heights.
Second-year Bryan women's coach Jason Smith has only one returning starter -- senior 5-10 "post slasher" Morgan Burnette, who averaged 11 points and eight rebounds a game last year -- but is expecting increased production from 6-foot junior post Jenna Ray, 5-10 junior Abigail Pippenger and 5-6 sophomore off guard Kelsey Brooks.
"Kelsey started several games down the stretch last year, and she is our best defender and our rock," Smith said. "Jenna had a great offseason and is ready to get starter's minutes and numbers, and Abigail had the best offseason of anybody and is our best all-around shooter."
The Lady Lions went 14-16 last year, 5-13 in the Appalachian Athletic Conference, but have high hopes for freshman point guard Keila Formont from Bradley Central and immediate expectations also for junior college transfers Rachel Calfee from Walters State, a 6-1 post, and guards Emily Rivers and Ashley Davis from Motlow State. Another freshman guard from Bradley, Taylor Neuharth, also should help but only recently was cleared to return from an ACL injury.
The Bryan guys were 13-17 and 8-8 last year and no longer have point guard Dion Fair, who averaged 12.9 points, 4.5 assists and 2.4 steals a game as a freshman, but the Lions do return second-team All-AAC guard Rob Riley (15.8 ppg) and two other solid seniors: Tim Fortenberry, who averaged 10 points, and center Jerrod Allen.
Two Tennessee Mr. Basketball finalists -- Brandon Cole, who averaged 26 points and 13 rebounds at Stone Memorial, and point guard Rafel Tyler (18 ppg) from Lake County -- head a group of six freshmen who also include Brandon Arnold from Chattanooga Christian, the son of former Bryan star Jim Arnold.