Ron Spry wants to rely on his guards this year. Maurice Wright is ready for the challenge.
"I think we're going to be one of the best backcourts in the conference," Paine College's junior point guard said. "We're going to be the central point of the team. Everything is going to start with us and go through us. We're excited about this season."
The Lions open Spry's 17th season as head coach tonight (8 p.m.) against Allen University in the Paine College Hall of Fame Classic at Carter Gym. Augusta State plays Morris College in the opener at 6 p.m.
Most of Paine's production during last year's 16-13 campaign was built around 6-foot-6 forward Leroy Grant, who led the team in scoring and rebounding. But Grant, who is three classes short of graduating, ran out of eligibility, leaving Spry with a guard-oriented team.
Wright, who is 6-3, will likely start along with fellow guards Ronald Slaughter and Ben Kohn, and 6-6 forward Drevyeel Cunningham and 6-9 center Theo Anderson. Senior forward Sha'Drach Qawiy (6-5) is also back.
"We still haven't filled that position left by Leroy," Spry said. "We're going to have to have someone to come in and take up the scoring. Still, we've got a good nucleus back. I'm still trying to figure out the personality of the team. That might take a while."
Spry signed four freshmen, including 6-5 forwards Carlos McNair of Thomson and Rodney Carswell of Wadley, Ga., but he is counting on Anderson to provide the bulk of the work inside. A natural rebounder and shot blocker, Anderson worked to improve his offensive skills during the summer, and Spry would like his big man to average 15 points and 10 rebounds.
"He's so unselfish, and I don't want him to be unselfish," Spry said. "If he's down low, 2 or 3 feet from the basket, I don't want him passing it out to somebody else. He looks to pass most of the time, but we're looking to change that. I want him to shoot, by all means."
The Lions get thrown into the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference schedule right away. They play Western Division teams LeMoyne Owen and Morehouse this month, in addition to having games against an improved USC Aiken team and always-tough Voorhees.
"A lot of us stayed around this summer and practiced together and got to know each other really well," Wright said. "Our chemistry is good. We're coming together. We're ready to jump into the season. We've worked hard. We're ready to go."
The Lady Pacers will be looking to improve upon last year's 7-21 record, which included a 4-14 Peach Belt Athletic Conference mark. Coach Gail Moody-Johnson has all five starters back, including senior center/forward Christale Spain, who averaged 14 points and 11.4 rebounds last season.