Texas College chomped at the bits for nearly eight months to replace a bad taste left last year.
The Steers set the table for another run toward basketball nationals starting with today’s season opener against Lubbock Christian at Gus F. Taylor Gymnasium.
TC appeared bound for nationals at last after finishing the regular season with a 20-9 overall record and 18-4 mark in Red River Athletic Conference play on the court, only to wind up forfeiting wins due to the use of an ineligible player. The forfeits eliminated the Steers from postseason contention.
“It left a real sour taste in our mind,” said fourth-year TC coach Marquet Norfleet. “I felt like last year our team had a good chance to compete for the conference tournament and if called on an opportunity at the national tournament.”
The Steers said goodbye to several seniors last year, including three all-conference picks in Jacobie Bias, Mario Kersee and Marshall Taylor.
TC returns one of the country’s most versatile frontcourt players in LaDarren Williams, a 6-8 senior forward from Arlington. The talented Williams won RRAC Defensive Player of the Year honors last season after averaging 11.7 points, 8.9 rebounds and a national-best 3.9 blocks per game.
Jamal Robertson (5-10 junior point guard, Dallas) started 11 games last year and averaged 8.3 points and 2.9 assists. Along with Robertson and Williams, returning Steers include Phillip Evans (6-2 senior guard, Houston), Jasper Manning (6-0 junior guard, Fort Worth) and Toddrick Thomas (6-7 junior forward, Dallas).
Newcomers include Jhimitrious Cochran (6-9 junior center, Phenix, Ala.), Keith Dorsey (6-1 sophomore guard, Houston), Geoffrey Gilchrist (6-4 junior forward, Houston), Samuel Henderson (6-4 junior forward, Houston), Wendell Maye (6-3 junior swingman, Daphne, Ala.), Sherrod Phillip (6-0 sophomore point guard, Fort Worth), Hakeem Poles (5-9 junior point guard, Philadelphia), Norman Stewart (6-5 junior forward, Baton Rouge, La.) and Johnny Thomas (6-4 junior forward, New Orleans).
Hamid Ford, a 6-1 senior combo guard out of Los Angeles who transferred from Texas Southern, highlights a group of players slated to become eligible for the second semester.
TC’s starting lineup projects to have Robertson at point guard, the high-scoring Maye at shooting guard, Stewart at the three-spot, Williams at the four and Cochran at the five.
“We have a good piece in place with LaDarren, he’s one of the top players in the country if not nation,” Norfleet said. “I think we have a decent-enough sized lineup to compete. I feel we’re going to catch a lot of people by surprise.
The RRAC added St. Thomas out of Houston to the mix to total 13 schools, making for a long 24-game conference season, starting on Nov. 15 for the Steers at home with arch-rival Wiley. The league’s coaches picked TC to finish fourth behind No. 6 LSU-Shreveport, No. 10 Texas Wesleyan and Our Lady of the Lake, a team it swept last year.
“I felt being ranked four was high, but our previous guys did so much it was out of respect,” Norfleet said. “We’re going to take it for what it is. Right now those three ahead of us are who we have to gun at.”
After they finished as national leaders in blocks and second in the RRAC in scoring defense, Norfleet projects an even sounder team stopping foes. Getting consistent scoring, and rounding into a complete team, remains the aim over the next five months.
“This team is defensively sound,” Norfleet said. “We’re still trying to find our true identity. We looked great in spurts in scrimmages and during some spurts it was hard to score.
“After Monday we’ll know what we’re looking like and hopefully we can find what we need to work on . We lost a lot that’s been part of back to back 20-win seasons. I tell them every day, they made their identity. What’s ours going to be.”
Texas College Steers 2011-12 Men’s Basketball Schedule
Oct. 31—Lubbock Christian (7)
Nov. 3—at Oklahoma Wesleyan (7:30)
Nov. 5—Dillard (4)
Nov. 8—at Mobile, Ala. (7:30)
Nov. 12 —at Lubbock Christian (7:30)
Nov. 15—*Wiley (7:30)
Nov. 19—at Dillard, La. (3)
Nov. 29—*at Langston, Okla. (7:30)
Dec. 1—*at Bacone, Okla. (7:30)
Dec. 10—*Southwest (4)
Dec. 12—*at Huston-Tillotson (7:30)
Dec. 17—%at Stephen F. Austin (7)
Jan. 5—*at Our Lady of the Lake (7:30)
Jan. 7—*Texas Wesleyan (4)
Jan. 9—*Southwestern Assemblies of God (5:30)
Jan. 12—*at Paul Quinn (5:30)
Jan. 14—*LSU-Shreveport (2)
Jan. 16—*at Wiley (5:30)
Jan. 21—*St. Thomas (2)
Jan. 23—*at Jarvis Christian (5:30)
Jan. 26—*Langston (5:30)
Jan. 28—*Bacone (2)
Feb. 2—*Jarvis Christian (5:30)
Feb. 6—*at Southwest, N.M. (5:30)
Feb. 9—*Huston-Tillotson (5:30)
Feb. 13—*Our Lady of the Lake (5:30)
Feb. 18—*at Texas Wesleyan (2)
Feb. 20—*at Southwestern Assemblies of God
Feb. 23—*at St. Thomas (5:30)
Feb. 25—*Paul Quinn (2)
Feb. 27—*at LSU-Shreveport (5:30)
March 2-3, 5—RRAC Tournament (TBD)
*—Red River Athletic Conference game