USC Aiken coach Vince Alexander laughs at expectations for his program.
The eighth-year Pacers coach has led his team to 110 wins the past five years. Picked to finish sixth in last year’s preseason’s conference coaches poll, USC Aiken won its second Peach Belt Conference regular-season title in the past five seasons. Entering this season, the Pacers are picked to finish fourth.
“I don’t really focus on those things,” Alexander said. “God willing, if we keep our guys healthy I think it could be a really good year.”
USC Aiken opens its season at 7 tonight when it plays host to Voorhees College. The Pacers, 14-0 at home last season, play six of their first nine games at the convocation center.
USC Aiken will try to build upon last season’s 21-8 campaign, which included a trip to the NCAA Division II Tournament. The Pacers, the No. 1 team in the Southeast Region rankings at the end of the regular season before losing the top spot to Montevallo, fell in the Peach Belt Tournament semifinals in overtime to host Columbus State. Then, USC Aiken lost by three in the Division II Tournament opener to Wingate.
The Pacers were hobbling in the postseason after losing three-point threat Ronald Zimmerman to a broken leg in the regular-season finale. In addition, guard Jesse Seilern played with a broken left hand and guard Re’mon Nelson battled through a pair of sprained ankles. Still, Alexander made no excuses.
“It was unfortunate, because I thought we had the team to win the region,” he said. “God willing, we’re going to get over that hump.”
USC Aiken returns seven players, including Nelson, who led the Pacers with 11.8 points and 3.7 assists a game last season. Also back is Zimmerman (42.8 3-point percentage) and Seilern (32 3-pointers).
USC Aiken added eight newcomers, including junior guard DeVontae Wright (transfer from The Citadel), junior forward Paul Larsen (Mercer) and junior forward Santoine Butler (Gardner-Webb). The 6-foot-8, 200-pound Butler graduated from Cross Creek High School, where he became known for his defensive prowess. Alexander said Butler might be his most versatile player on the team.
“He’s a very hard worker,” Alexander said. “He rebounds. He blocks shots. He can step outside and shoot. And he score around the basket.
“I expect him to come in and make an impact right away.”