Nov. 12, 2009
NACOGDOCHES, Texas -
The Stephen F. Austin Lumberjack basketball team will open the season Monday with a roster full of newcomers. But if there's one spot on the floor where the 'Jacks are blessed with experience, it's in the backcourt.
Guards Eric Bell, Walt Harris and Eddie Williams give the Lumberjacks a combined total of five years' worth of experience as key contributors on a pair of championship teams. That figures to be big on a squad with six collegiate transfers and two freshman signees.
"We have a lot of new players on this year's team, and my returning veterans are helping me coach them," head coach Danny Kaspar said during fall workouts. "I've seen some leadership from players like Eric, Eddie and Walt. I think this is a big key to us having another good year. Internal leadership is a must for any successful program."
The trio is penciled in to the starting lineup with Bell at the point, Harris playing shooting guard and Williams at small forward. This marks the first time in Kaspar's nearly 10 years as head coach at SFA for him to start three guards.
The three combined to account for 84 percent of the scoring load among SFA's returning players, led by Williams' 7.4 points per game. He is the top returning scorer on the team and figures to take on an increased role in the offense.
"Eddie has been a big contributor to our success the last two years," Kaspar said. "He's a multi-position player who is tough and competitive. Eddie has to play well for us to be successful. His defense has always been very good. His leadership has been excellent this year. Eddie needs to be a more consistent scorer for us, particularly as a perimeter shooter."
For his career, Williams is a 21-percent shooter from 3-point range, but has been one of SFA's most consistent defensive stoppers. His 33 steals were second on the team last season. Bell finished just behind Williams with 32 steals in 29 games. At the other end of the floor, the two combined for 45 percent of the team's assists in 2008-09.
Bell needs just 168 assists -- approximately 5.5 per game assuming at least a 31-game season -- to set a new career record. He enters the season with 287 assists in just two years.
"Eric has been the starting point guard on two consecutive championship teams," Kaspar said. "He'll be tough to beat out for playing time and should be a big contributor to this team's success."
Harris is coming off a frustrating Lumberjack debut in 2008-09. He was in the hunt for a spot in the starting lineup before a pectoral injury during fall workouts took him out of practice for several weeks and caused him to miss the first two games of the season.
Once cleared to play, Harris saw action in all 30 remaining contests and averaged 3.9 points per game in 12.5 minutes per contest.
"Because of his injury early last season, we did not get to see the true Walt Harris last year," Kaspar said. "He gives us some more scoring punch."
The only experienced depth in the backcourt behind the first three comes in the person of junior Austin Falke. The Thorndale, Texas, native came to SFA as a walk-on for the 2007-08 season and saw limited action in each of his first two campaigns. But he figures to get more minutes at the off-guard spot this season.
"Austin is playing with confidence and has caught the eyes of the coaching staff with his preseason practice performance," Kaspar said. "I think Austin has a chance to get some quality minutes at the shooting guard spot if he can cut down on his turnovers."
Point guard Denzel Barnes may prove to be the most impactful addition of the 2009 signing class. The New York native came to SFA following two seasons at Howard College, where he was a two-year starter and earned all-conference and all-region honors. Last year he ranked third in the nation with 2.7 steals per game and was 13th in the country with 4.2 assists per contest.
"Denzel is the biggest challenge Eric Bell has faced here," Kaspar said. "He is a talented point guard who can be very helpful to us once he learns our system."
The other newcomers in the backcourt are shooting guards Lionell Holmes and Aaron Patterson. Holmes is a transfer from Antelope Valley College in California, where he started 20 games and averaged seven points per outing as a freshman. Patterson is a Houston native who transferred from New Mexico Military Institute. He lettered both years there and averaged 8.1 points with 3.8 rebounds as a sophomore.
"I think our perimeter game can be one of the best in the conference," Kaspar said. "We have experience and athleticism, and I feel that we'll be fine in the guard spots."
Coming tomorrow: A look at the frontcourt.
-- SFA --