NACOGDOCHES, Texas (Press Release) – On Friday afternoon at 4:00 p.m., the Stephen F. Austin men's basketball team will convene at William R. Johnson Coliseum for the first official day of practice in preparation for the 2016-17 season. That opening day of practice also marks just the 12th time in the 92-year history of the program that a new head coach will be guiding an SFA team through the paces for the first time.
Hired in April of 2016, Dallas native Kyle Keller is one of 13 new faces that comprise the roster of players and coaches for Stephen F. Austin this season. Most recently, Keller served as an assistant coach under Billy Kennedy at Texas A&M and helped the Aggies lay claim to a share of the 2015-16 SEC Championship before advancing to the Sweet 16.
"It is quite the honor for me personally to lead this storied program here at SFA," Keller said. "I am very excited to start official practices with our young team."
Five members of the 'Jacks' 2015-16 squad that went 28-6, captured a fourth-straight Southland Conference title and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament will return to the court this season including Dallas Cameron – the group's lone senior. Through his three seasons in Nacogdoches, the Pompano Beach, Fla., has racked up 89 wins – the fifth-most by any player in the history of the program.
Also back to try and capture an unprecedented fifth Southland Conference title in as many seasons are 2015-16 starting lineup regulars Ty Charles and TJ Holyfield. Now in his third season in Lumberjack colors out of Kennedale, Texas, Charles represents the 'Jacks' top returning scorer (9.4 points per game) and rebounder (4.8 per game) from a season ago.
During the course of Holyfield's freshman campaign, the talented forward from Albuquerque, N.M., developed into a dependable member of the team and capped his first season with a career-best 15 points in SFA's NCAA Tournament second round showdown against Notre Dame.
The two other holdovers who the 'Jacks retained are sophomore forward Nathan Bain and sophomore center Jovan Grujic, both of whom played in 24 games in 2015-16.
"We have gotten great leadership from our core group of returners," Keller continued. "They understand the tradition and history of championships here at Stephen F. Austin."
One notable absentee from the 'Jacks' ranks this season will be CJ Williams. The rising senior must sit out the season due to a medical issue with his heart which was discovered during cardiac screenings in the summer. Williams played key minutes for the 'Jacks off the bench during his first season in Nacogdoches in 2015-16 and logged five rebounds and one point in 15 high-quality minutes in SFA's NCAA Tournament win over West Virginia last March.
Four freshmen and four junior college transfers make up the rest of SFA's 13-man roster for 2015-16 and those individuals join a team that has posted the second-highest winning percentage in NCAA Division I men's basketball (.864) over the last three seasons. First-year players Aaron Augustin, Kevon Harris, Samuli Nieminen and Chase Winchester will be joined by fellow SFA newcomers Ivan Canete, Leon Gilmore, Josh Huntley and Isaiah Traylor as they seek to extend the nation's longest in-conference winning streak (29 games), the nation's longest road winning streak (nine games) and the nation's fourth-longest home court winning streak (28 games).
Following a home exhibition showdown with Huston-Tillotson on Friday, Nov. 4, in William R. Johnson Coliseum, the 'Jacks will travel to Lexington, Ky., for a first-ever meeting with Kentucky that will serve as the season opener for both teams on Friday, Nov. 11.