Augusta State’s newest big man flashed his wide grin as he dripped sweat from his workout gear.
Center Chad July, who transferred in from Flagler for his senior season, prepared to join his new teammates as he worked out with Garret Siler and lost almost 30 pounds. And when the start of college basketball season officially began Monday, no one was happier than the 6-foot-9, 247-pound July.
“You can tell it’s a winning program and we’re really striving to do good this year,” he said. “I’m loving it, too.”
With July expected to plug the gap in the paint and give Augusta State a rebounding and defensive presence, the Jaguars, with five returning starters and eight newcomers, are looking to bounce back from last season’s 17-11 campaign. Augusta State saw its string of five consecutive Division II Tournament appearances snapped, and ninth-year coach Dip Metress said a winning season simply isn’t good enough.
“A lot of teams would be happy, but not this program,” Metress said. “The bar is raised so high that 17-11 is not good enough. We’ve hopefully addressed that a little bit with recruiting. We start anew this year.”
At USC Aiken, eighth-year coach Vince Alexander added 10 newcomers to his core group of five returners. The Pacers, the defending Peach Belt Conference regular season champions, went 21-8 last season with an appearance in the NCAA Division II Tournament.
The USC Aiken women are looking to build on their run last season, when they won the conference tournament title, won a Division II Tournament game and finished at 27-4. Coach Mike Brandt added three freshmen to his group of eight returners, which includes preseason All-American Kayla Harris, a junior forward.
At Paine, the Lions are picked to finish second in the East Division behind Benedict in a Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference coaches poll. The Lady Lions are picked to finish fifth in the East Division.
At Augusta State, the women are looking to bounce back from a 12-15 season.
The Lady Jaguars return five starters and return five other players.
For the Augusta State men, the Jaguars are as deep as any team in the Metress’ tenure. Augusta State has three point guards and plenty of depth inside with the return of the team’s top three scorers in forwards – Devon Wright-Nelson, Devonte Thomas and Harold Doby – and the addition of July.
“Everybody’s bringing something different,” Wright-Nelson said. “We have who are going to go in and bang. We have guys who can score.”
“We’re here to win a ring,” July said. “We’ve got a really deep team, and we’re going to be really good. My first impression is everybody’s focused and everybody wants to win. Everybody wants to win the Peach Belt, everybody wants to win the region, everybody wants to win a national championship.”