Bruce Capers sat back at a recent Aiken Tech preseason practice and surveyed his group of players. The Knights head coach tried to remember a group like the one he was looking at. He couldn't do it.
"This is the first time, in my playing career and coaching career, where every guy out there has earned playing time," he said. "Usually by this time of year there's about four or five guys who I know aren't going to see much playing time. We don't have any guys like that this year."
Capers' comment came right after his team failed miserably to hit the coach's scoring expectations during a three-man weave drill, and just before the team, given a second chance, broke the scoring record for the drill in practice.
"There's a certain sense of mental toughness with this team," Capers said. "We didn't have that last year."
The Knights stumbled last season to a 10-20 overall record, well below Aiken Tech's basketball standards. But five returning players and a few transfers have the Knights once again hoping to compete as a top junior college squad.
Darnell Davis, who missed the majority of the 2008-09 campaign with a broken hand suffered in the third game of the season, will return along with sophomores Dajuwan Carter, Khiry Clarke and Antrjuan Albright. Aiken High School product Brandon Roland, who redshirted last year, is also back.
Former Glenn Hills star Jerel Stephenson will join the team this season after transferring from UNC Wilmington, and Anthony Rapley, who originally signed with Temple as a wide receiver, will play basketball for Aiken Tech instead.
"There's a lot of talent on this team now," Davis said. "In fact, it might be the best team I've ever played on."
The Knights have proven their talent in two preseason jamborees last month, where they went 7-1. The tougher tests will come this week, when Aiken Tech takes on a pair of four-year schools in exhibition games. The Knights will play host to Benedict College on Monday, then play at Augusta State on Wednesday.
Aiken Tech's regular season opens Friday and Saturday with home games against Gulf Coast Community College and No. 1 Central Florida Community College in the Aiken Tech Tip-Off Classic.
"We have to be prepared, because we're going to be tested early," Capers said. "We wouldn't want it no other way."
Reach Billy Byler at (706) 823-3216 or email@example.com.
AIKEN TECH SCHEDULE
Today vs. Benedict, 7 p.m.*
Nov. 4 at Augusta State, 7:30 p.m.*
Nov. 6 vs. Gulf Coast CC, 8 p.m.
Nov. 7 vs. Central Florida CC, 5 p.m.
Nov. 10 at Atlanta Metro, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 16 vs. Middle Georgia, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 17 vs. Chattanooga State TCC, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 21 vs. Coastal Georgia CC, 4 p.m.
Nov. 30 vs. Georgia Perimeter, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 2 vs. Atlanta Metro, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 4 vs. Emmanuel JV, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 7 at Middle Georgia, 6 p.m.
Dec. 12 at Georgia Perimeter, 3 p.m.
Dec. 14 vs. IMG Basketball Academy, 5 p.m.**
Dec. 15 vs. Polk CC, 7 p.m.**
Dec. 19 at Roane State CC, 7 p.m.
Dec. 28 vs. Gulf Coast CC, 6 p.m.***
Dec. 29 vs. Northwest Florida State, 4 p.m.***
Jan. 9 at Coastal Georgia CC, 3 p.m.
Jan. 11 at Denmark Tech, 7 p.m.
Jan. 18 vs. USC Salkehatchie, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 22 at Cape Fear CC, 7 p.m.
Jan. 23 at Brunswick CC, 3 p.m.
Jan. 28 at Spartanburg Methodist, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 3 at Chattanooga State TCC, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 6 vs. Clinton JC, 4 p.m.
Feb. 12 vs. Brunswick CC, 7 p.m.
Feb. 13 vs. Cape Fear CC, 4 p.m.
Feb. 15 vs. Denmark Tech, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 20 vs. Spartanburg Methodist, 4 p.m.
Feb. 22 at Clinton JC, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 24 at USC-Salkahatchie, 7:30 p.m.
**at Polk State College Tournament
*** at Gulf Coast Holiday Classic
AIKEN TECH BASKETBALL ROSTER
No. - Name - Ht. - Wt. - Year - HS
10 - Winford Ivey - 5-10 - 185 - Soph. - Jordan (Columbus, Ga.)
11 - Dominick Harley - 6-0 - 195 - Fr. - Aiken (Aiken, S.C.)
12 - Casey Arnold - 5-8 - 173 - Fr. - Cedar Shoals (Wintersville, Ga.)
14 - Dajuwan Carter - 6-5 - 207 - Soph. - Screven Co. (Rocky Ford, Ga.)
21 - Khiry Clarke - 6-9 - 225 - Soph. - Johnson (Savannah, Ga.)
22 - Antrjuan Albright - 6-2 - 200 - Soph. - Screven Co. (Sylvania, Ga.)
23 - Jihad McCloud - 6-1 - 182 - Fr. - Glenn Hills - (Augusta, Ga.)
24 - Anthony Rapley - 6-5 - 205 - Fr. - B. Mays - (Atlanta, Ga.)
31 - Brandon Roland - 6-3 - 210 - Soph. - Aiken - (Aiken, S.C.)
32 - Rickie Jamar Jackson - 6-4 - 205 - Fr. - White Knoll (Lexington, S.C.)
33 - Jerel Stephenson - 6-5 - 212 - Soph. - Glenn Hills (Augusta, Ga.)
34 - Kirtrell Dixon - 6-6 - 225 - Fr. - Weequahic (Newark, N.J.)
40 - Mario Farris - 6-5 - 215 - Soph. - Portal (Pine Bluff, Ark.)
41 - Archie Adams - 6-6 - 203 - Fr. - South Aiken (Aiken, S.C.)
44 - Darnell Davis - 6-7 - 260 - Soph. - Atlantic City (Atlantic City, N.J.)