Northeastern A&M's Golden Norsemen open the basketball season at 8 p.m. Monday by hosting the Oklahoma Baptist University JV in the newly renovated NEO Fieldhouse.
NEO, the defending Region II champions, have three returning sophomores and two transfers.
“Even though we're actually a young team, we're bigger than we were the last two years,” Golden Norse head coach Dustin Grover said. “Our front line goes 6-9, 6-8, 6-7 and 6-7, so we'll have some size and strength down low.”
Last season under Grover's direction, the Golden Norsemen finished third in the Eastern Division of the Bi-State Athletic Conference with a 5-3 record. The Norsemen won the Region II title with a 71-64 win over Northern Oklahoma-Enid in Shawnee.
Advancing to the Men's Division I NJCAA National Tournament in Hutchinson, Kan., the Golden Norse dropped a 76-75 decision to Indian Hills, Iowa, to finish ninth in the tournament. NEO finished 27-9 on the year.
“Not only will our additional height improve our scoring capabilities, but we should also be better defensively,” Grover said. “We probably need to get a little more aggressive shooting the ball.
“As a team, we've also got more basketball knowledge of the game itself,” Grover said. “Our youth might be a disadvantage at the start of the season, but it should turn into a strength as the year goes on because our most talented players are probably freshmen.”
Challenging for the starting point guard position are freshmen Jamell Cormier (6-0 of Stillwater) and Raphael Brown (6-2 of Kansas City, Mo.).
“Both these guys have the quickness, strength and the ability to score,” Grover said. “Early on we're going to take our lumps to a certain extent because these guys are freshmen and they are in the learning process.”
Two returning sophomores - Chase Elliott (6-2 of Bristow) and Ross Moore (6-0 of Bartlesville) - could see some playing time at the point when not playing a shooting guard spot.
Elliott averaged 4.1 points in 33 games last season. He led the Norsemen in free throw shooting percentage with 66 of 86 for 77 percent. He averaged 2.3 rebounds with 43 assists and 23 steals.
Moore played in 12 games during the second half of last season.
“These two guys understand how to do things the right way,” Grover said. “They both have the ability to handle the ball at the point-guard spot.”
Returning at the two-guard position is veteran Chaz Davis along with transfer Jamere King.
Davis (6-3 of Harlem, New York) played in 16 games last season and averaged 2.1 points and 1.3 rebounds with five assists and four steals.
King (6-2 of Tulsa Washington) has been sidelined all preseason with a groin pull. Last year King played at Centenary College in Shreveport, La.
“Both these guys can shoot the basketball,” Grover said. “Once Jamere gets to full strength, our depth at guard should be very solid.”
Freshmen Scott Forrest (6-4 of Atco, N.J.), Javvero Baker (6-3 of Edmond Santa Fe) and Javer Lewis (6-0 of Broken Bow) could see playing time at either guard positions out front.
When he's not playing out front, Elliott will moved to the forward spot on the perimeter along with freshmen Phillipe Martin (6-7 of Staten Island, N.Y.) and Adrian Powell (6-4 of Baton Rouge, La.).
“Even though Phil is a freshman, he is talented and a good athlete,” Grover said. “He can either shoot from outside or take the ball to the basket while Adrian gives us depth on the perimeter.
“In Brown, Marin and (Andre) Coimbra, we have three very talented freshmen,” Grover said. “All three of these guys have a chance to be pretty good.”
Competing in the post positions are five players which include sophomore transfer Carlos Dos Santos (6-8 of Sao Vicente, Brazil).
Last season Dos Santos played for national champion South Plains, Texas.
Dos Santos averaged 6.1 points and 3.5 rebounds in 28 games for former Miami Wardog head coach Kelly Green.
“Carlos, along with our four freshmen are all interchangeable,” Grover said. “Carlos has the edge because of his experience, but the freshmen are really coming on because of their talent.”
Coimbra (6-9 of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) along with Thiago Pigatto (6-5 of Cupjito, Brazil) give the Golden Norsemen size and strength on the boards.
Also battling inside are Tony Ross (6-7 of Tulsa Union) and Brandon Edwards (6-6 of Trenton, N.J.).
“Rebounding at both ends of the floor will be more of a strength than it has been the last two years,” Grover said. “After all, we're playing a 6-4 or 6-5 guy with a 6-8 or 6-9 player.
“Along with our talented youth, I really like the character of this group of kids,” Grover said. “I also like the basketball knowledge they all have. It's refreshing.
“We're still tinkering with our offense because of the overall skill these guys have,” Grover said. “The last two years it was just put your head down and drive towards the basket and score.
“But now we can be a little more creative with our offense even though they're still young,” Grover said. “We'll still have to ride herd on them to keep our turnovers at a minimum.”