PORT ARTHUR —
The 2013-14 men’s basketball season will take flight for the Lamar State College-Port Arthur Seahawks with a two-day tournament trip to Pensacola, Fla. this weekend.
The Seahawks, who return second-year players for the first time in three seasons, will face Gulf Coast, Fla., State on Friday at 5:30 p.m. and Pensacola State College on Saturday at 7:30 Saturday.
Head coach Lance Madison started the 2012-13 season from scratch in his first year at the helm. A masterful, albeit short, recruiting season resulted in a 21-11 record and a trip two games deep into the NJCAA Region XIV Tournament. The season was heralded as a surprising success considering all players on the team joined the Seahawks at the last possible moment.
Now, a year later, a half-dozen returning sophomores, joined by a sophomore transfer, will battle to reaffirm the fact that last season’s success was no fluke.
Region XIV coaches have taken notice of the Seahawks. During the preseason voting among the league’s coaches, LSC-PA was picked No. 3 among the seven South Zone teams, just behind No. 1 Lee College and second-ranked San Jacinto College.
A year ago, the Seahawks wound up fourth with a 10-9 conference record, good enough to clinch a spot in the regional tournament in Tyler. Once there, the Hawks pummeled Paris College before falling to Navarro College in the quarterfinals.
Now, the Seahawks are reaping the reputation they earned a year ago. The Hawks received two first-place votes among the coach balloting.
“This is such a tough conference,” Madison said. “These are just preseason picks but it gives you an idea of who coaches think have the best talent in the league. We had some great numbers last season and we’ve got four strong guys coming back this year. When you look at these preseason polls, you’re really only going on what happened last year and the talent each team has coming back.”
Sophomore six-pack, plus one
The returning talent for the Seahawks is indeed impressive. For the first time in three seasons, the Seahawks have a returning sophomore class. But these are no everyday players, these are returning starters who set school records this past season.
Anthony Allen, the school’s first-ever 7-footer, collected 155 blocked shots during the regular season last year, finishing as the No. 1-ranked shot-blocker in the nation in junior college basketball. He terrorized opposing shooters in the paint and at 7-1, stands as a formidable presence again in 2013-14. In addition, his move to the basket on offense is stronger with experience and confidence, adding to his already mult-faceted abilities on the court.
Sophomore Jamal Shabazz was the go-get-’em guy on the boards last season, pulling down a team-best 8.7 rebounds. A player who likes to go by “Showtime,” Shabazz’s game is as much about substance as it is flash. The Austin-area native scored 9.9 points a game a year ago and looks to be a bigger contributor on offense as the season progresses.
Tre Bennett is no stranger to success on the hardwood. The Houston sophomore guard is a product of the storied Yates program and the confidence he brought from high school is still palpable on the court. After a year on the collegiate floor, his ball-handling abilities have grown even further.
European player Ivan Jelencic, from Croatia, is back in the fold this season and is expected to have a greater impact after becoming more accustomed to the high-speed juco game in America. Also back is long-ball shooter Evan White of San Antonio, who made 38 3-pointers a year ago, and Jamaican Garth Brown at guard.
D.J. Blanks transferred to Lamar State after a year at Glanville State University in West Virginia. He started 21 games as a true freshman, averaging more than 11 points a game.
“Our sophomores bring leadership and mental toughness after spending a season playing in this region,” Madison said. “They’ve played tough games and they know how to win close games late. They know what I expect out of them and they are prepared to do the work that needs to be done to win games.”
Four freshmen join the ranks this season and Madison expects these fresh faces to make a splash in their first collegiate appearances.
Guards Erik Durham, JoJo Mooring and Antonio Dawson, as well as center/forward Cirkook Riak came to Lamar State this season. As freshmen, they add uncharacteristic depth and experience to an already deep roster.
“We have a good group of freshmen,” Madison said. “They have good basketball IQ and a good skill-set.”
Durham, from Springfield, Mo., averaged 25.3 points a game in high school, while Mooring, of Chicago, averaged 19 points and shot 80 percent from the free throw line. Dawson, who is from Coral Gables, Fla., averaged 14 points a game in high school. Riak, a 6-8 forward/center from Australia, adds depth to the Seahawks’ interior.
Madison said he will count on Durham and Mooring, as well as sophs White, Bennett, Jelencic and Shabazz, to bring a long-distance shooting threat to the floor, which should open even more scoring opportunities in the paint for Allen this season.
“If we can spread the floor with strong outside shooting, that opens up the lanes and gives Anthony better opportunities to score inside,” Madison said. “It’s going to be an exciting season for us this year. There will be some great games.”
The Hawks open a five-game home stand on Saturday, Nov. 9, when they host Texas Southern University JV at the Carl Parker Center. Tipoff is at 4 p.m.