Every year he's been at Augusta State, coach Gary Tuell has had a different style of team.
This season, the Jaguars go big. Real big.
With the addition of 6-foot-10 Russell Hinder along with returning 6-11 senior center Festus Hawkins, Augusta State will have twin towers inside the paint.
West Georgia will be the first opponent to get a good look at Augusta State's size when the Jaguars open the season on the road tonight at 7:30.
"At first, teams were just focusing on the big guy and doubling down," Hawkins said. "Now they can't do that. Russell can hurt you. He's dangerous."
Last season, the Jaguars went 17-11 and won the PBAC North Division title for the second straight year. Augusta State lost four seniors off last year's squad and added Hinder and 6-7 forward Marcus Gradney.
"It remains to be seen if we've gotten better," Tuell said. "We've definitely gotten bigger."
Sophomore point guard Chris Harriman returns after missing all but eight games due to a stress fracture in his foot. Junior point guard Jayme Johnson, who played in all 28 games and had 66 assists, also returns.
Junior Gary Boodnikoff played with an injured back for most of last season and his play suffered. He averaged 9.9 points a game and shot 38 percent from the floor. The Alice Springs, Australia, guard said his back is fine as he hopes to get back to 1998-99 form when he shot 47 percent from 3-point range and was named PBAC Freshman of the Year.
"I didn't shoot the ball well last year," he said. "I just want to shoot a better percentage and take better shots."
In the frontcourt, Hawkins returns at center where he scored 14.5 points a game and led the Jaguars in rebounding (8 per game) and blocks (59). Hinder averaged 3.7 points and 3.5 rebounds a game last season for the University of San Francisco, but has good range.
Gradney comes to Augusta State from McLennan Community College after a year at Division I Long Beach State. The junior transfer played high school ball in Louisville, Ky.
Other key returners for the Jaguars include junior guard T.J. Ott (7.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg) and 6-9 fifth-year senior forward Reggie Rosier (1.9 ppg), who has had an injury-plagued career at Augusta State.
Meanwhile, the Jaguars have eight players on scholarship along with seven walk-ons. If the team stays healthy and improves defensively, Tuell believes they can be dangerous.
"I like the potential of this team," Tuell said. "I don't know how we'll do early in the year, but I don't think we'll be nearly as good as I'd like to be early in the year. If we don't get better defensively, we're going to lose a lot of games early."
Reach Chris Gay at (706) 868-1222.
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