written by: Shane Thomas
The Valdosta State men’s basketball team will have 11 new players this season around returners David Murray, Colin Cook and Dylan Nsiah. The Blazers were picked to finish fifth in the Gulf South Conference in the Preseason Coaches’ Poll.
Picked to finish sixth in the conference in 2012-13, the Blazers went on to have a 19-10 record and advanced to the GSC championship game.
“I like what our returners bring to the table,” Mike Helfer, Blazers head coach, said. “You try to recruit guys that fit your system. We were able to do it last year and I think we’ll be able to do it this year.”
The Blazers led the GSC in scoring at 78.4 points per game. With the departure of Josh Sparks and James Anacreon, the team’s top two scorers and rebounders from last season, Helfer will have to adjust his approach on the floor this season with forward Colin Cook filling in.
“It’s an adjustment,” Cook said. “Me having a bigger role means getting the job done—more rebounds, efficient basketball, good shots, keeping the team together, winning games. It’s that simple. We love Sparks and we love James but they’re gone. I’ll take everything I’ve learned from those guys and look forward to a great season.”
Something to watch closely for the Blazers is their ability to force turnovers. Last season, Patrick Diop led the team in steals. With Diop gone, the need for the Blazers to disrupt on the perimeter will be critical.
“Defensively, from a quickness standpoint, this team is as quick as last year’s team,” Helfer said. “If we can put ourselves in position to create turnovers, I think it’ll happen just like it did last year.”
Another area of concern is the team’s struggle with the three-point shot. The 2012-13 Blazers were the worst three-point shooting team by percentage of any team Helfer has coached in the last four seasons.
“I thought [three-point shooting] was one of our weaknesses last year and I think it got us beat,” Helfer said. “Over the course of the season, you’ve got to have more than one or two guys that can make perimeter shots. We’ve got guys who have done it before and are very confident in shooting threes.”
With a retooled roster, the Blazers aim to reach their annual goal.
“Our expectation every year is to win the GSC,” Helfer said. “Hopefully, we have guys that are talented enough, work hard enough, and play together enough to give us chance to compete for a championship.”
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