While the Lions were forced to find a new home with the renovation of their gym, they also found themselves in the middle of regime change. Assistant coach Jimmy Link was named head coach in January after longtime coach Ron Spry stepped down.
“Last year, we had a lot of distractions,” junior guard Mario Jordan said. “We had a lot of adversity.”
After last season’s 11-17 campaign, Paine is back looking to reverse a tired trend. The Lions seek their first winning record since the 2006-07 season.
Link, starting his first season as the team’s head coach, was able to install his offensive sets this fall. He also brought in eight newcomers to add to all-conference guard Jordan and Tony Baker, as well as senior forward Geno Green and senior center Chris Hunt. Green and Hunt each are academically ineligible this fall and will miss five games before their expected return in December.
Link is looking to fill the team’s weaknesses from last year with new players. Paine shot just 38 percent from the field and posted a minus-5.6 rebounding margin. Jordan, who led the Lions in scoring (14.1 points a game), shot 38 percent from the field, while Baker (10.2 scoring average) shot 40 percent.
“There’s not as much pressure on us to make shots as there was last year,” Baker said. “If we’re not making our shots, we know we’ve got other people on our team who are going to step up and make shots.”
Kenny Fluellen, a former first-team, all-state high school player from Warner Robins, Ga., is expected to help with scoring. He transferred in from Limestone and will play small forward.
“He can shoot the cover off the ball,” Link said.
While James Devlin is expected to play point guard, transfers Allen Young (6-foot-8, 210), Mike Dorceus (6-5, 220) and Danny Feliciano (6-6, 225) will be asked to rebound and be active in the paint. Forward Darius Smith (6-4, 185), a sophomore transfer from Columbus State with a 45-inch vertical leap, also is expected to contribute down low.
While Paine’s Health Education Activities Learning (HEAL) Complex is in the midde of construction and expected to be open by next fall, the Lions will play their home games at Richmond Academy this season. It’s one more bit of adversity for the team.
“You have to be mentally ready,” Jordan said. “Basically, it’s like 26 road games. We just have to get used to it.”