It was all smiles and optimism at the Southern Miss men's basketball team media day Wednesday morning at Reed Green Coliseum.
Head coach Larry Eustachy again called his current squad "the best he's had" at Southern Miss, and said the team is poised to do something special.
"I'm not sure how many games we'll win," Eustachy said. "But this is by far the most talent we've had. I can honestly say there isn't a single player on this team that doesn't belong here. We can rest guys and still have talent on the floor at every position."
The Eagles return seven key players from last year's 20-14 squad, and have several additions to the roster that should contribute immediately, most notably guards Devonta Newbill (or D.J., as he is
known by teammates) and LaShay Page.
Newbill is a rare freshman addition to the roster out of Philadelphia, Pa. and the kind of player Eustachy believes he can build future teams around.
Page comes to Southern Miss as a sophomore from Chipola Junior College, and is going to be called on to fill in for R.L. Horton and Angelo Johnson when it's time for a breather.
Eustachy said his best guess at his starting five right now is Johnson, Horton, Newbill, Maurice Bolden and Gary Flowers. But, that rotation is fluid right now because Torye Pelham, Page and senior Sai'Quon Stone are all pushing for a lot of playing time.
Eustachy plans to use Thursday's exhibition against William Carey to help the best combinations of players and lock down his personnel rotations.
"Well I'm approaching it a little differently this year since it's an exhibition and doesn't count towards our final record," Eustachy said. "We'll try to win, of course, but this game is more about us getting better as a team and seeing what we really have."
According to coaches, the team already played very well in a scrimmage against LSU last week, but are without freshmen Kody Williams (knee) and Trency Jackson (eligibility issues), as well as Stone (back spasms) right now.
Eustachy said he believes Williams will play a role down the stretch and isn't too worried about Stone, who he said will find his way on the court.
"I'm excited about this team," said Stone, who has four previous years under his belt. "We are definitely as talented as we have been since I've been here. Every player that returned this year is improved, and these new guys are pushing us in practice every single day."
Stone and Flowers have become the team's most vocal leaders on the court, according to Eustachy. Johnson has apparently come a long way in that regard as well, but needs to manage the team from the point to be successful.
After Thursday's scrimmage, the Eagles will continue to practice for the season tip-off on Nov. 12 against South Florida down in Tampa.
They'll follow that game up with four home dates against South Alabama, McNeese State, Spring Hill and Alcorn State.
"These early games don't matter that much," Eustachy said. "We want to win them, but I think once you get into the conference part of the schedule you win the big ones that really matter. Look at the marquee wins for the program since I've been here: sure, LSU in my first year, but last year we won a huge road game at Houston and we beat UAB in
the (Conference USA) Tournament."
This season, C-USA looks winnable for the Eagles, at least on paper, and the national recognition continues to roll in.
The USA Today said in its' annual college basketball preview that it seems "anything less than the NCAA Tournament would be a
disappointment." Yahoo! Sports pegged the Eagles for a No. 2 finish in the league, said they were one of the two "top teams who can challenge Memphis and called another post-season bid "extremely likely."
The Golden Eagles will take on William Carey at 7 p.m. Thursday at Reed Green Coliseum.
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