The 2010-11 men’s basketball season will mark the University of Mobile’s first season in the Southern States Athletic Conference, and the Rams will enter the challenging league with a strong base of returning players.
“We improved last year, and we expect a bigger improvement this year as we head into the tough SSAC,” Head Coach Joe Niland said. “It’s going to be a real challenge, but we have two All-Conference perimeter players returning and Matthew Turner has the potential to be one of the top big men in the league.”
The season will open Nov. 1 at Tougaloo College, one of several tough non-conference challenges awaiting the Rams.
“We are playing home-and-away against traditionally National Tournament level teams Xavier, Tougaloo and Life, and a very strong SUNO team,” Niland said. “That’s eight tough games right there.”
Mobile will also face Southeastern University, who beat NCAA I affiliate Stetson, and play a pair of exhibition games against Nicholls State and South Alabama. Conference play will see the Rams battling in the SSAC West Division along with Loyola, Auburn-Montgomery, Belhaven, Faulkner, Spring Hill and William Carey.
“There isn’t a break in the conference,” Niland said. “Four very tough teams came with us from the GCAC, and we are very familiar with Faulkner and AUM, having played home-and-away series with them over the years.”
Leading Mobile into the slate of challenging contests will be a team centered around strong guard play, with some emerging post players hopefully providing the final piece to the puzzle.
Returning on the perimeter are Spencer Duke (6-1, Jr., Pinson Valley, Ala.), Marcus Polnett (5-10, So., Birmingham, Ala.), Donte Walker (6-4, Sr., Lake Charles, La.) and Ji Kimbrough (6-1, So., Mobile, Ala.).
Walker, the team’s lone senior, is only 11 points shy of joining the 1,000-point club and was an All-GCAC selection last year. As a freshman in 2007-08, Walker was named GCAC Freshman of the Year and he was a starter on the last team to advance to the NAIA National Tournament. Kimbrough led the Rams with 16.3 points per game, including a 39-point outburst versus Belhaven, and joined Walker as an All-Conference selection. Duke and Polnett, meanwhile, were 1st and 2nd on the team in assists, and 3rd and 4th in steals, respectively.
“Guard play is definitely the strong suit of this team,” Niland said. “I’m excited to see what Ji can do in his second year, and we fully expect Donte to step up in a big way as a senior.”
Joining the vets in the backcourt are Dontae Amos (5-9, So., Lake Charles, La.), Jason Sanchez (5-9, Jr., Miami, Fla.), Ryan Petty (5-10, So., Mobile, Ala.), Tyler Cole (6-2, So., Geraldine, Ala.), Christian Salinas (6-3, Jr., Perth, Australia) and Bentley Hylton (6-1, Jr., Westmoreland, Jamaica).
“Amos is a quick, pesky defender, while Jason Sanchez has very good floor vision and is a good run-the-show point guard,” Niland said. “Salinas has a very high skill level and is a good shooter, Hylton averaged 18 points per game at Rainy River CC, and we expect Tyler and Ryan to add depth to our team.”
While, guard play is key, it will take a strong post presence to take the team deep into the 2011 postseason.
Returning post players are: Brock Dockery (6-6, Jr., Bonifay, Fla.), Matthew Turner (6-9, Jr., Melbourne, Australia) and Kevin Calloway (6-6, So., Lake Charles, La.).
In 2009-10, the trio combined for 16.7 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, while Dockery hit 32-of-72 from three-point range. Turner shot 60% from the floor, while Calloway flashed his potential with double-doubles versus Auburn-Montgomery and Spring Hill.
“We have to get consistent play inside,” Niland said. “We expect big contributions from Matt, Kevin had a good freshman year, and Brock is making the move to power forward, and we expect that to help him make a bigger contribution.”
Joining that trio in the front court will be Alex Tolbert (6-8, Jr., Mobile, Ala.) and Dino Gutesa (6-7, Jr., Velika Gorica, Croatia).
“Dino is a skilled big that can play either the power forward or center spot,” Niland said. “He helps solidify the post, while Alex brings some needed depth down low.”
Fans will get 16 chances to see the Rams at home this season, with the home opener taking place Nov. 6 at 3 pm versus Vorhees College and Spring Hill visiting Jan. 27 at 7:30 pm.