Clarksville, Ark.-University of the Ozarks men's basketball coach Johnny Johnson knows his team won't be sneaking up on anybody this season.
By Larry Isch, Director of Public Relations With a roster full of experience and depth, Johnson’s Eagles have been picked to finish second in the American Southwest Conference East Division. Last season, the Eagles were the surprise team in the conference, finishing second and earning their first-ever trip to the conference postseason tournament. "I think we’ve got the talent and experience to have a good season, but we’re not going to have the luxury of sneaking up on teams like we did last year," said Johnson, who is 156-106 in 10 seasons at Ozarks. "I’ve told our players that we’ve got to be ready to play every night because we’re a target now." The Eagles appear ready to make another run at a conference title with several returnees from last year’s 16-8 season. Leading the way is 6-foot-8 senior forward Travis Acord, who earned all-conference and ASC Defensive Player of the Year honors last season. The former Clarksville High standout led the Eagles in scoring (13.0), rebounding (5.6) and blocked shots (1.3). "Travis is definitely going to be a key for us this year," said Johnson. "We need for him to have another strong year and to be a leader on the court. He’s capable of impacting the game in so many ways and that’s what makes him so valuable for us. He should be one of the top players in the conference again this year." Joining Acord are six other players who saw significant action last year: sophomore center Brent Gibbs, junior forward Michael Young, senior guard Ryan Koerdt, senior point guard Donald Williams, junior forward Brian Henderson and sophomore guard Clay Davis. "Those kids played a lot of minutes last year and all had good seasons," Johnson said. "The big difference so far with this year and last year is that our returnees know the system and know each other. They look so much more comfortable on the floor this year. They’ve all looked good during the preseason and appear ready to have even better seasons this year." The Eagles lost returning guard Ricky Johnson for the year when he suffered a preseason knee injury, but they do regain the services of senior forward Ryan Marshall, who started three years ago before missing the last two seasons with knee injuries. Three players who redshirted last season, forward Anthony Peterson and guards Mandrell Howell and Geoffrey Owens, should see considerable action. Also expected to make an immediate impact on the team are newcomers Eric Whisenant, a sharp-shooting guard from Seminole Junior College in Oklahoma, forwards Ricky Broadway and Daniel Watson from North Little Rock, and guard Brent Johnson from Ozark. "Depth-wise, this may be one of the best teams I’ve had here," Johnson said. "We’ve got players two and three deep at every position. The key for us is to get good play from our point guard and center positions. If we can get good play from those positions, be a decent rebounding team and keep our turnovers down, we’ve got a chance of having a good year." The Eagles open the season on Nov. 17 against Rust College in the Hendrix College Classic in Conway. The first home game is Nov. 20 against Arkansas Baptist College.