NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - The hardwood inside the William R. Johnson was full of hustle and energy Tuesday afternoon as Coach Kyle Keller and his 2017-18 Lumberjacks took to the floor for their first practice.
One thing noticeable between the team this year and last year when Keller took over is the hustle at the first practice.
"We have quite a way to go before we can call ourselves good, but I thought our try level was really high," Keller said. "When you compare it to my first practice here 12 months ago there was a lot more we could accomplish because of our veterans. That's makes things exciting for us as a staff."
Last year, the Lumberjacks went 18-15. The team took a step back as they learned Keller's system finishing the Southland Conference with a 12-6 mark. The team also failed to make it to the NCAA Tournament for a fourth straight year. The 'Jacks were one of three teams who tied for a runner-up finish in the 13-team league before advancing to the opening round of the CIT.
The team has returning veterans Ivan Canete, Ty Charles and TJ Holyfield. The veterans had their eyes on a squad of five new players. season including junior college transfers Shannon Bogues and John Comeaux as well as true freshmen Stefon Fisher and Cameron Mack. Also included in that group of newcomers is walk-on Harrison Perkins.
"Today we put all the veterans on one team which puts a lot of pressure on our new guys," Keller said. "All of our returners have some idea of what they're doing so, naturally, it takes away from the raw talent of the newcomers at first. That being said, we have some special talent out there with our group of new guys and before it's all said and done they all have the potential to beat out some of our returners. They wont be in the young group all year long. They will be flipped over and they will beat some of those older cats out before it is over with."
Keller said despite the younger players trying to pick up on the speed, he saw a lot of promise and they could be a surprise to many this year.
"We're going to play so much faster. This is maybe one of the fastest teams I've ever been around. I think we have four fast guards in Aaron Augustin, who has matured so much from a year ago, Camerom Mack, John Comeaux and Shannon Bogues. Those guys have elite level speed and quickness and we don't do ourselves any favors by playing slow. We're trying to play fast, play with quick shot clocks, move the basketball, spread the court, taking advantage of our athleticism and size down low. Once we can all get out there we'll figure out what we do best."
The younger players will be able to look up to veterans on the team. Veterans like Holyfield who was part of the last team to advance to the big dance.
"This is what we have been working for all summer putting in countless hours and it feels good for the whole team to be here," Holyfield said. "That is why I am really trying to take on that leadership role. I am trying to show them exactly how to get there."
Keller knows the fans expect a lot from the team, but his concern is on preparing the team to be the best they can be.
"That is not pressure to me," Keller said. "Those are great accomplishments and I think that this program deserves to have the great players that I think we have. I know I will never be the best coach at SFA and nor do I want to be. What I want to do is coach the best team that has played here and I think this team right here has a really high ceiling. "
Information on upcoming season: