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GC men's hoops ready to rebound

By DUSTIN KENT                                                            

October 27. 2015 4:42PM

 

PANAMA CITY — Through the first two rounds of Panhandle Conference play last season, it appeared that Gulf Coast was on a path toward the state tournament.

 

At 5-3 following the first of two wins over eventual national champion Northwest Florida State, the Commodores were alone in second place and appeared en route to the postseason.

 

But a 1-3 finish dashed those dreams, as Gulf Coast fell to Pensacola State in the regular-season finale to be eliminated from contention.

 

If the Commodores are to get over the hump this year, they’ll do so on the backs of three key returners and  better-shooting backcourt that includes a pair of talented redshirt freshmen who have waited patiently for their turn.

 

“It is tough to get close and come up short,” Gulf Coast coach Jay Powell said. “In my eight seasons, I’ve finished third four times. We’re working like heck to try to get ourselves ready and get back to the state tournament. It’s a great goal for the team to have this year.

 

“(The loss to Pensacola) stung all summer long, but only one team won their last game and was happy with how the season ended and that’s Northwest Florida State. The rest of us are working to get there.”

 

Heavy attrition is an annual experience for most every JUCO basketball program and the Commodores are no different. They lost 82 percent of their scoring, 54 percent of their rebounding, and 69 percent of their assists from last season.

 

The starting backcourt of Quavious Copeland and Jon Wade — who combined for 21.7 points and 5.9 assists per game last season — is gone, but it’s the loss of post player Anton Waters and his 11 points and 8 rebounds per game that may be felt the most.

 

“I think the difference right now is our inside game is not as far along as it was a year ago,” Powell said, noting not just the loss of Waters but also center Folorunsho Akande. “Losing Anton Waters is going to impact us at both ends of the court, and (Akande) on defensive end of the court just knowing where to be and what to do. We lost some good guys in the frontcourt.”

 

The top returning post player is Davaris McGowens, who had a nice freshman season with 9.6 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. He said that he’s prepared to be counted on for more.

 

“I’ve got a big job, but I feel like it’s nothing I can’t handle,” he said. “I’m ready for it.”

 

His fellow sophomore Cobe Goosby also said he is ready for an expanded role this season. The 6-foot-4 swingman was something of a glue guy for the Commodores last season, defending, rebounding, and adding some playmaking as well.

 

This season, he should get an opportunity to improve on last year’s 5.1 points per game average.

 

“It will be a little different this year,” Goosby said. “More points, more rebounds, assists, better defense, basically better everywhere on the court, and more scoring. I’m excited about it. I worked a lot on my shot in the offseason, as well as ballhandling and getting a little faster, a little quicker with the first step.”

The least heralded of the three returning players for Gulf Coast would be 6-10 center Jordan Tribble, though Powell said that he is probably the most improved player on the team.

 

“He has made a lot of progress,” Powell said. “Where he’s going to end up and how influential he’ll be to our team and to games, I’m not sure yet. I do know he’s gotten a lot better.

 

“Even though he doesn’t look real thick, he has gotten stronger in the weight room and that has assisted with his confidence in going to get balls out of his zone. I see better things out of him.”

 

Gulf Coast also will get a lot of help on the interior from 6-8 Rodney Ross, who transfers in from State College of Florida after averaging 9.5 points and 6 rebounds per game as a freshman, as well as 6-11 freshman Johnny Williams from Enterprise, Ala.

 

To give those guys room to work on the interior, the Commodores will need to get consistent perimeter shooting from the backcourt, an area they struggled with for much of last season, especially after the season-ending injury to Elliot Cole early in conference play.

 

Gulf Coast could get just that from freshmen Curtis Weathers and Marshall Griffith, as well as from 6-2 redshirt freshman Khaliel Spearman. The former Rutherford standout is one of two guards, along with 6-4 Rafael De Souza, to sit out last season.

 

Spearman said it was tough to only be able to watch knowing that he could’ve helped out when the team was struggling to knock down perimeter shots.

 

“It was very frustrating because I love the game of basketball so much and I couldn’t help the team out in any way,” Spearman said. “But this year it shall be different.”

 

Even if the Commodores do become more proficient from the 3-point line, as well as more balanced and consistent, making a move up the standings will be hard in a deep and talented Panhandle Conference that features four teams in the preseason state poll.

 

Gulf Coast isn’t one of the four to be ranked and was picked by the Panhandle coaches to finish fifth in the league. That prediction wasn’t taken very seriously by the Commodores’ players.

 

“It’s just what people think right now,” Goosby said. “I know we’re not gonna finish fifth. I believe we’ll be first. Our sophomores are doing good and showing leadership every day, and the freshmen are coming in and catching on. I feel good about this team.”

 

After playing a full season in the Panhandle Conference, McGowens certainly knows how tough the league is, but he said there’s no reason for the Commodores to feel outmatched by anyone.

 

“I feel like we can play with everybody,” he said. “This conference is so tough, but everybody is beatable from what I’ve seen. It’s just about coming in every night and trying to win and playing your hardest. I feel like everybody is hungry and we know what we’ve got to do to be successful.”

 

Gulf Coast opens its season this weekend in Pensacola with games against Lamar State on Friday and South Georgia Tech on Saturday.

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