But the Wolves are currently making some adjustments on the fly after losing a pair of expected starters just before the tip to the 2012-13 campaign.
During the opening week of school, it was discovered that returning senior forward Lavon Gray’s stress fracture hadn’t healed to the point where he could be productive, ultimately leading to the decision of having season-ending surgery. Gray is expected to receive a medical redshirt and return to the court next year.
Making an already difficult blow even tougher came in the form of another loss, where 6-foot-5 JUCO transfer Phillip Flowers was ruled ineligible this season after enduring some transfer hiccups from South Georgia Tech.
“Most of the schools in the state recruited him, including Jacksonville State, and we feel great that we got a 6-5 three-man that can really score it. Low and behold, the hours that he had in Computer Science didn’t transfer. It becomes a debate between our compliance officer and the NCAA. And finally the NCAA rules that he needs to sit a year to earn eligibility. So in a matter of a week, we lost two guys that we felt were starters. Phillips is definitely more of a perimeter player and Lavon’s an inside, but both of them are 6-5, 210-215 pounds type of forwards. So all of a sudden, a real strength of our team, now there’s a glaring hole there,” Cooney said.
“If you would have talked to me two months ago, I’m sure you would have gotten a real pessimistic response. We were pretty much in shock.”
But since that time, the UWG coaching staff saw the potential to utilize its veteran backcourt and feature an up-tempo style of play. Cooney said through the early-season practices heading into Monday’s 8:30 p.m. exhibition at Jacksonville State, he seen a lot of promise.
“I was really, really concerned that we’re going to have a hole in our team. So you go through the fall and you’re thinking about how your team needs to play. We just made a decision that because of the number of guards we have, we were going to have to really pick up our tempo and everything,” Cooney said. “We’ve got after it and worked really hard in the fall and then we started practice.”
West Georgia, which reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2005 last season, returns a veteran backcourt that includes seniors Quincy Hill and Ryan Godfrey, along with Thomas Higginbotham, who was selected as the Gulf South Conference Freshman of the Year last winter.
That group, along with an influx of fresh talent, will make the Wolves go this season.
Cooney is leaning on sophomore Taylor Cochran emerging into a more prominent role this season, while JUCO transfer Sean Boston, a 6-foot-5 wing, is also expected to make immediate contributions.
From there, freshmen Deontre Brown and Malick Kone will join sophomore Zach Taulien in critical roles off the bench, while redshirt freshman forward Dan Trimble and junior center Scott Oudendyk will have to help make up for the loss in the frontcourt, which also includes the team’s top two scorers and rebounders from a year ago — Da’Ron Sims and Gavin Field — gone to graduation.
Cooney is looking for senior forward Brett Seljak — who has been hampered by injuries and illness since coming to Carrollton — to come through with a breakout season in 2012-13.
Of course, everything starts with the three returning guards.
“Those three guys are all playing really, really well ... Those three guys give us tremendous versatility. We’ve been playing Ryan at the point more this year, so we can keep those point guards fresh. You’re going to see all three of them on the court together, so I’m excited about them,” Cooney said.
And with just four upperclassmen on the roster to go along with a combined eight freshmen and sophomores, Cooney said there may be a few bumps in the road early, but he expects his team to be in the thick of the GSC race once the season really heats up.
“I think as they develop, the next step is they’ve got to find a way to win. It’s emotionally real difficult for them when you lose Lavon Gray and Phillip Flowers. It’s hard for your team to lose those guys and think, ‘Hey, we’re going to be all right.’ But I think now that they’ve seen the practices and seen how they’re playing, they know that we’re telling the truth that they can be good,” Cooney said.
“I like the team. I think we’re going to be real exciting to watch with the style we’re going to play. Those guys are good players. They compete hard and they’re going to get after you.”
UWG officially opens its season next Friday at home against Miles College in a 7:30 p.m. tip.