For the first time in three seasons, USC-Aiken basketball coach Larry Epperly can look on the court and on his bench and see some experience.
That plus gives Epperly an optimistic feeling about the season as the Pacers open the 1996-96 campaign tonight at home against Morris College. Tip off is at 7:30 at "The Courthouse" on the school's campus.
USC-Aiken's women play Morris in a 5:30 p.m. game. The Lady Pacers (0-1) opened their season on Saturday night with a 61-58 loss to Newberry.
Epperly has four of five starters off last year's team returning. Overall, eight of the 10 players on the roster shared time last season as a starter. There are no seniors on the squad.
"I am very excited about the upcoming season as we have 10 players who can step on the court and contribute at any time during a game," Epperly said. Headlining the returnees is 6-foot-9 sophomore Derek Moore, who was the Peach Belt Athletic Conference freshman of the year last season. The Australian was the leading shot blocker (3.7 per game) in Division II last season, and averaged 12.4 points a game while playing both forward and center for the Pacers.
Moore also earned honors on the NCAA Division II all-freshman team.
Also figuring heavily in Epperly's plans are juniors Kendrick Smith, Hugh McMurray and Marc Hutcheson.
If there is a concern as the season begins, it's who will become the Pacers' floor leader. Last season, senior Jermaine Smith played that role.
Getting the call to provide leadership from the guard spot this season will be Smith, a 6-foot-1 player Epperly considers the most athletic player on the roster. Last season, Smith finished with an 11.8 average, including 36 three-pointers and 59 assists, second best on the team.
Morris dropped a pair of games in the Paine Classic over the weekend, losing to Augusta State 85-81 on Friday night and falling to Paine 78-66 on Saturday night.
Guard Quincy Durant led Morris, from Sumter, S.C., in a losing cause against the Jaguars, scoring 32 points, 15 of which came from three-point range. On Saturday night, he was held to eight points. Reginald Williams picked up some of the slack against Paine with 20 points, 17 more than he had on Friday night.
Morris College's women also lost a two games in the Paine's two-day play, falling to the Lady Lions 66-64 on Friday and to Augusta State's Lady Jaguars 76-71 on Saturday.