It hasn't left Demetric Hymes-Taylor's mind.
Nine months ago, Augusta State was less than three minutes away from winning the Peach Belt Athletic Conference Tournament and going to the Division II playoffs for the first time in 21 years. But Georgia College and State ended the championship game on a 12-0 run to defeat the Jaguars 70-64 and end Augusta's postseason hopes.
"From the end of the season until right now, it's still on my mind," Hymes-Taylor said. "That's the kind of feeling that will never go away. When you're that close to winning your tournament and going to the big tournament, that sticks with you forever."
Hymes-Taylor is one of four returning starters, along with three other returners, who experienced the Jaguars' worst-to-first turnaround last season that translated into a PBAC North Division title and a share of the regular-season PBAC crown.
One of the players responsible for last season's success, PBAC Player of the Year Kavossy Franklin, is gone. However, the Jaguars have their first big man in the Gary Tuell era in 6-foot-10, 280-pound center Festus Hawkins. Hawkins started 15 games for Illinois last season and averaged 6.3 points and 5.3 rebounds a game, but he transferred to ASU after he was dismissed from the team by Illinois coach Lon Kruger in August.
"Fess is a very intelligent player," Tuell said. "He may be one of the smartest players I've ever coached. He has a multitude of skills. He can really pass; he sees the floor; he's unselfish; he can score when he needs to score; he rebounds. He's a pro. He's going to play somewhere for money one day if he keeps working hard.
"God blessed us with Fess."
Another impact player for the Jaguars will be freshman point guard Chris Harriman. The Balgownie, Australia, native averaged 21 points, nine assists and five rebounds a game for Edmund Rice High School last year.
"Chris Harriman really gives us leadership at the point," Tuell said. "Chris is pretty special. He's a very, very talented player. You have no idea how good he is. There are a lot of days when I think the two best talents are Fess and Chris."
Senior forwards Hymes-Taylor, Brian Calvin, Mike Mills and guard Oliver Ottley, Jr., are the heart and soul of the team. Those four have seen this team transform over the past three seasons.
"Coming in as freshmen we were all wet behind the ears," Ottley said. "As seniors, we have new players and it's just unbelievable how it has turned around."
With the turnaround comes a more difficult schedule. This season, the Jaguars will play Division I Western Athletic Conference champion Utah, South Atlantic Conference runner-up Presbyterian, NAIA two-time national champion Life University, Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association Western Division champion Winston-Salem State and Southern Intercollegiate tournament champion Paine College.
"I think our schedule is the hardest Division II schedule in America," Tuell said. "If this team is to contend for a championship, we need this kind of challenge."
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