Clarksville, Ark.-New faces are spread across the 2003-2004 U of O men's basketball roster, including 11 new players, seven of which are freshmen.
Ozarks returns seven lettermen, with each seeing significant action from last year’s squad that finished 14-10. A new roster with numerous first-year players may bring inexperience, but it also brings enthusiasm and excitement. "Whenever you bring in a lot of new players into a program it brings energy and excitement to a team," said O’Connor, who is entering his third year as head coach. "I’ve been happy with the overall attitude and enthusiasm of the team. These guys are excited about playing and we feel like the players we brought in have a big upside. We’ve got some guys that can help us early." O’Connor expects another tight race in the American Southwest Conference East Division after finishing third in the league a year ago. "It’s always going to be battle in our league," said O’Connor. "When there are only two playoff spots for eight teams, it makes for competitive games night in and night out. It’s a wide-open race this season. I feel like the door is open for us, but we have to get better as we go along, and I think making the playoffs is a very legitimate goal." The Eagles appear to be top heavy at the guard position and somewhat small on the inside. O’Connor plans to offset the team’s lack of size with a solid group of guards. "We will definitely play to highlight our strengths," O’Connor said referring to his depth in the backcourt. "I think our strengths starts with our depth at the guard position. We will spread the floor a little bit more and look for opportunities to create lanes and have some opportunities for some three-point shots. I’m happy with our overall depth which will help us play a fast-pace game." Sophomores Brad Johnson, Josh Joyner and Scott McCall have valuable experience and are expected to contribute at the guard position. Johnson ranked sixth in the conference in steals (2.1) while averaging points 3.8 per game. Joyner is the team’s top returning scorer after averaging 7.5 points per game. Joyner also averaged 3.8 rebounds per game while hitting 55 percent of his field goal attempts. "Brad has improved in many areas of his game," said O’Connor. "Josh has had a really strong off-season and I look for him to play a more dynamic role on the team in terms of scoring, rebounding and on defense." Senior Reggie Brasfield and juniors Brent Johnson and Caleb Hilton will give the squad an outside scoring threat. Johnson returns this season after sitting out last year with a knee injury. He averaged 11.2 points per game on his way to being named honorable mention all-conference in 2001-2002. "Reggie brings a lot of spark to the team at the two guard position and I think Brent brings a lot of toughness and competitiveness to the team and is a strong outside shooter," said O’Connor. O’Connor will need a replacement for post player Michael Bollman, who was named the East Division Co-Offensive Player of the Year last season. Inside players David Hamilton, along with 6-5 post players Shannon Scribner and Mike Taylor provide athleticism to the squad. Hamilton, 6-6, started in 8 games last season, while freshmen Scribner and Taylor give the Eagles size and presence in the middle. The Eagles face a tough task with their schedule, which includes playing three NCAA II opponents and road stints against three of the top four teams in the West division. "This is definitely the toughest schedule we’ve had since I’ve been here," said O’Connor. "We have some difficult road trips early in the schedule. It’s not as much about the wins and losses early in the season, but rather if we are competing and playing as well as we can. I expect this team to be competitive in every game and I want us to peak towards the second half of the season." The Eagles open the season on November 21 against Southern Arkansas in the UCA Alltel Classic in Conway. The game is set for 5:30 p.m.