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Panthers face steep early learning curve
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Lamont King, one of five seniors on this year’s Ferrum College men’s basketball team, drives to the basket for two points during a game at William P. Swartz Gymnasium last season.(Staff Photo by Steven Marsh)
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Friday, November 16, 2012

By STEVEN MARSH - Sports Editor

FERRUM -- With lots of new names and faces, Ferrum College's men's basketball team enters the 2012-13 season looking to decrease what Panthers head coach Bill Tharp called a "steep learning curve."

The Panthers (13-13 last year) open their season with back-to-back games against Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) foes Bridgewater College and Eastern Mennonite Univerrsity in Eastern Mennonite's season-opening tournament today and Saturday.

"We've got a lot of new guys in the mix this year so the learning curve from the beginning of practice (in October) is a little bit bigger this year with so many added new faces, but, I think, overall, we've been working hard. It's just a matter of getting our young guys to understand how hard they have to play in college basketball,' Tharp said.

"That's hard to do in practice when you have so many of them and none of them know how. Our veterans have done a good job trying to show some leadership, and get them to understand what we've got to do,' Tharp said.

"Facing Elon and Guilford at least gave us a taste of the speed of the college game. As the year goes, obviously, as they see it more and more, we'll get better. It's just been a steep learning curve so far,' Tharp said.

Ferrum was picked to finish eighth in the expanded, nine-team USA South Athletic Conference. Three teams -- Maryville (Tenn.) College, LaGrange (Ga.) College and Piedmont (Ga.) College -- make their league debuts, while reigning conference champion and preseason title favorite Christopher Newport University is in a swan-song USA South campaign.

Eight of the nine teams will qualify for the USA South's postseason tournament in Fayetteville, N.C. This year, the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals will be played on a neutral floor at the Crown Center Arena.

In men's basketball, the conference schedule consists of 16 games -- a double round robin in which each team plays each league opponent twice, home and away.

"Sixteen (league games) is a good number. It's challenging with the travel,' Tharp said.

For Ferrum, trips to Christopher Newport, LaGrange and Piedmont will be made during the semester break.

"Three of our four longest trips are over the break. That's really fortunate for us,' Tharp said.

Ferrum lost five games in a row at the end of the season a year ago to finish .500. The last of those setbacks was to Methodist (N.C.) University at home in the opening round of the conference's postseason tournament, their third loss of the year to the Monarchs.

"Obviously, we have some veteran guys who are going to be major contributors for us, but because of the make-up of our roster, we are going to have to have some guys who have little to no experience playing (contribute) and there is going to be a few of them. Our success is going to depend on how far our veterans can carry us, but also how soon our new guys adjust to college basketball life,' said Tharp, who enters the season seven victories shy of 100 for his career.

Ferrum's top returnee is senior post player Lamont King, who averaged 12.7 points and a team-best 7 rebounds a game last season. Starter Donte Thomas, a senior, also returns as does senior guard Marshall Hamilton, who sustained a foot injury, then after returning to the line-up, he tore his ACL.

Also back are seniors Shon Goode and Charles Warren and sophomores Alan White and Jamal Pullen.

"We return Lamont who was an all-conference player last year and Marshall is getting healthier as the days progress. He was a starter for half the year two years ago on a team that won 23 games,' Tharp said. "I think we'd had a much different year last year had he been healthy. He had the foot injury early in the year and as he was starting to get over that, he tore his ACL.

"As he gets healither, that will help us. He's cleared to play. ...He's not quite as explosive as he was, but I've talked to him about using the tools he has, maybe adapting his game a little bit, play off his strengths more, maybe change what his strengths are,' Tharp said.

Of the newcomers, only junior Ben Clarke, a junior college transfer from nearby Patrick Henry Community College, has past playing experience.

"Some of our new guys came in with a little bit better skill package than others, but that's not to say that as the season progresses, some other guys won't get in (games), so it's really hard to tell right now. I think we have a few of them that are further along right now, so those guys are going to play more earlier,' Tharp said.

"With so many new guys, you never know when it's going to click for some guys and when they're going to get it.' Tharp said.

Six of the Panthers' newcomers hail from North Carolina, four are from Virginia and one is from Washington, D.C.

"I think we've got three or four of them that are pretty well along right now and are probably going to see a little bit of (playing) time at least, then we'll have to see as the season progresses who picks it up,' Tharp said.

Ferrum has 11 games at William P. Swartz Gymnasium this season -- six in November, December and January and five of their six scheduled games in February.

"We are definitely going to have to be road warriors early in the season. Playing 13 of your first 19 games on the road, that's a challenge,' Tharp said.

"You always want to be playing your best basketball at the end of the season. If we can play hard and succeed in those first 19 games, hopefully, we'll have turned the corner and be playing well and in February with five of our last six at home, that will be an important stretch,' Tharp said.

Besides Bridgewater and Eastern Mennonite, Ferrum will play ODAC rivals Emory & Henry College, Randolph-Macon College, Washington & Lee University, Randolph College and Lynchburg College.

Also, the Panthers will take on Goucher (Md.) College, which plays in the Landmark Conference, and Marymount University of the Capital Athletic Conference.

"Despite the fact that we've got a lot of new guys and that our learning curve is steep, we still have high expectations. Our freshmen have confidence and belief in themselves,' Tharp said.




11-16-17 @Eastern Mennonite Tournament

vs Bridgewater College 6 p.m.

vs Eastern Mennonite University 4 p.m.

11-20 @Emory @ Henry College 5 p.m.

11-25 Randolph-Macon College 2 p.m.

12-1 @Greensboro (N.C.) College* 2 p.m.

12-3 Washington @ Lee University 7 p.m.

12-5 @Randolph College 7 p.m.

12-8 @Goucher (Md.) College 7:30 p.m.

12-18 Lynchburg College 4 p.m.

12-29 N.C. Wesleyan College* 4 p.m.

1-2 @Christopher Newport University*7:30 p.m.

1-5 @LaGrange (Ga.) College* 4 p.m.

1-6 @Piedmont (Ga.) College* 4 p.m.

1-9 Averett University* 7 p.m.

1-12 @Maryville (Tenn.) College* 4 p.m.

1-16 @Marymount University 7:30 p.m.

1-23 Greensboro (N.C.) College* 7 p.m.

1-26 @N.C. Wesleyan College* 4 p.m.

1-30 @Methodist (N.C.) University* 7 p.m.

2-2 LaGrange (Ga.) College* 4 p.m.

2-3 Piedmont (Ga.) College* 4 p.m.

2-13 @Averett University* 7 p.m.

2-16 Maryville (Tenn.) College* 4 p.m.

2-17 Christopher Newport University* 4 p.m.

2-19-23 @USA South Tournament** TBA

All home games are played at William P. Swartz Gymnasium on the Ferrum College campus.

*USA South Athletic Conference games

@Crown Center Arena, Fayetteville, N.C.

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