Clarksville, Ark.-A bit of uncertainty surrounds the U of O men?s basketball team entering the 2013-2014 season, but that won?t change how new head coach David Ferrell leads his team.
With the loss of four starters, including two All-Conference players, a season of change awaits the Eagles. Ferrell, who won 458 games at West Fork High School, will do what he has always done: preach the importance of taking strides daily.
“I know it is Cliché, but we want to take it one day at a time,” said Ferrell. “We talk to them constantly about trying to make progress each day. We just try to get better every day, and my experience is that if you do that, you can be pretty good before it is over. We only want to focus on the next opponent.”
Key returners include 6-foot senior guard Andrew Cummings, 6-foot-3 junior forward Joshua Clark, 6-foot-4 sophomore forward Kristopher McCrary and 6-foot-6 sophomore forward Adam Geller. Added to the mix are a number of freshman as well as senior transfer Ricky Allen and 6-foot-3 sophomore forward Ted Beard IV. Allen played at Southern Arkansas University last season, while Beard IV is back after playing at Ozarks in 2007-2008.
Cummings is the top scorer returning with a 11.6 points per game average. Cummings, who made the conference All-Defensive Team a year ago, led the team in steals (1.7) in 22 starts. Clark averaged 6.5 points and 2.5 rebounds per game, while McCrary averaged 2.5 points per game and nearly three rebounds per contest. Geller has made progress in year two and is expected to play a much bigger role this season. Beard IV averaged over ten points a game in 2007-2008. Allen could have the biggest impact of any player on the team, according to Ferrell.
“If Ricky has a good year, we could have a good year,” said Ferrell. “If you have a point guard that can handle it and someone that can score, you should be able to find a way to stay in games. We have six or seven freshman that could get significant playing time, too.”
The Eagles will likely be among the smallest teams in the American Southwest Conference. No player is taller than 6-foot-6.
“Inside play is a big question mark,” he said. “It is yet to be determined how productive our inside game will be.”
Ozarks was picked to finish last in the ASC preseason poll, but Ferrell is using it as motivation. A preseason poll was hung in each player’s locker as a reminder of others’ expectations. Ferrell believes this type of expectation presents a unique opportunity.
“We remind them daily about the preseason poll,” he said. “We are not trying to hide from it. We try to tell them that the preseason has no bearing on what reality is. I’ve told our guys we have a unique opportunity to do something special.”
Ferrell inherits a guard-oriented team, and anticipates taking full advantage of it. He hopes his team will play as fast on defense as it does on offense.
“We want to push the ball the whole game,” he said. “One of our strengths is we are deep at guard. We will shoot a lot of three-pointers. But everything we do is built out of a trap. We like to pressure the ball and make other teams uncomfortable. Hopefully, we will play as fast on defense as we will on offense. I like to play with reckless abandonees on defense.”
The key to finding success this season, according to Ferrell, is keeping his players mentally tough through the season’s entirety.
“We need to be mentally tough enough to improve and then stay with that fight for the entire year,” he said. “I want to know how we handle success and failure.”
Ferrell feels his team has made positive adjustments, but a new culture always brings new challenges.
“It is hard to change the culture,” he said. “The guys have some built in excuses that don’t need to be there. We are chipping away at it. But we have some guys that are buying into it.”
Ozarks finished 7-18 overall and 4-15 in the East Division last season. There will no longer be an East and West Division for the 2013-2014 season. Instead, the divisions have been combined and all 12 teams will play each other at home and on the road. The top eight teams will qualify for the playoffs. Mississippi College is not eligible for post-season play due to its reclassification to NCAA Division II.
Ozarks will open the season November 16 against Baptist Bible College at home.