BY ADAM GREENE
It may be the beginning of Tusculum College men's basketball coach Michael Jones' second season at the helm, but in many ways it feels like the first. Jones was hired away from Brevard College late in the offseason last year, in August, 2011. Jones didn't have the chance to recruit for his system then, so he's more than made up for it this year with nine new freshmen joining the Pioneers this season.
"The guys that are here are young," Jones said. "This is a team that I feel very much is mine at this point. We're trying to teach these young men how to compete at the college level and practice hard every day. It's a lot of fun to watch these guys grow as a team."
Tusculum (0-1) opened up the 2012-13 campaign with a 91-78 loss to King on Wednesday. Tonight, they host Knoxville College in the Pioneer Classic Tournament at 6 p.m.
While Wednesday's game was a loss, it gave a preview of what's to come with the Pioneers. All three leading scorers from last year's team graduated. Junior college transfer Nick Spinks is the only senior this season with any significant playing time under his belt. Spinks averaged nearly five points a game last year. Wednesday night, Spinks scored 13.
"These are games that are going to tell us where we're at and what we need to work on," Spinks said. "We're pretty young, but everybody is picking up the plays, the defense and the rotations. It's pretty smooth. It's going to be a tough beginning, but we're going to get through it."
The biggest change for Tusculum will be the significant playing time of multiple impact freshmen. Wednesday night Keith Jumper led the Pioneers with 16 points off the bench, playing just 19 minutes. The 6-foot-8 Jumper is a player Jones expects a lot out of over the next four years.
"It's been a long time since Tusculum College has had a freshman that looks like this young man," Jones said of Jumper. "He's probably got a 6-11 wingspan and can run and jump and do a lot of exciting things."
While Jumper didn't start Wednesday, freshmen B.J. Fisher did, scoring nine points. It was also the first Pioneers action for former Walters State standout Addison Flynn. Flynn scored 14 points.
"We've got some good, quick guards and kids that can score and do a lot of good things with the ball," Jones said. "At the same time, we've got size and athleticism in the post. We've got all the things we need to be successful. All we lack is experience."
Jones is in an odd position as a second-year coach. With so many seniors on last year's team, Jones isn't saddled with key players from the old coaching regime any longer. This year Jones has implemented a new system and brought in the players to run it.
"This is the direction that I planned on going in when I got the job," Jones said. "The team that we had last year was built by a previous staff. The guys we had were great and the performed wonderfully for me through a lot of battles. We feel like we can make this team more athletic and a lot faster on the floor."
Tusculum's South Atlantic Conference schedule begins on Nov. 28 and it will be a key game. The Pioneers host No. 18-ranked Lincoln Memorial, the team that's dominated the SAC over the last few years. LMU is the conference benchmark and Jones is interested to see how his team matches up, not only this season, but for seasons to come.
"It's going to be a rollercoaster year anytime you have this many freshman," Jones said. "Our job as a coaching staff is to limit those as the season goes on and make us more consistent. We're going to see some things that are special at some times, and at others we'll see things we're frustrated with. We're building for the future."