As sure as the turning of the leaves in the fall, hope springs eternal at Cleveland State Community College as another basketball season has rolled around. With coach Lee Cigliano entering his 18th season as the head Cougar, expectations are at peak levels with the influx of talent that he and his staff have assembled for the 2013/2014 version of Cougar basketball.
"We've got practically a brand new team this year with only two returning players from last year," the coach stated. "We participated in a couple of Junior College jamborees in the preseason and held our own against some top competition. We've dealt with a number of different injuries so far, so it has been a challenge to practice and develop continuity, but we are making progress."
This year's version of the Cougars will be looking to improve on last year's 19-10 record and a run in the always-tough Region VII Tournament that saw the Cougars fall just one layup, that rolled off the rim at the buzzer, short of a trip to the National Tournament in Kansas.
As is usually the case in Junior College basketball, practically a whole new team hit the floor on November 1st as only two familiar faces were on the Cougar bench. Kahan Swift and Dantario Dansby will be the two returning Cougars and will be counted on heavily to lead the fresh faces into the new season.
Freshman, Stetson Moore from Knox Halls High School and Seymour, Tennessee will see plenty of time at the guard position while Swift will most likely start at the off guard according to the coach. Sophomore transfer Kendrick Williams will see a lot of time at the point when he recovers from an injury and freshman Jackie Hale from Birmingham, Alabama along with Robert Brandon (Seigel High in Murfreesboro), who is also recovering from a knee injury suffered in his senior season, will be in the mix at guard.
"Injuries have really dictated the playing time up to this point, but we have a lot of talent and depth at the guard position and it will be fun to watch the competition when they all get healthy," the coach stated.
Another Sophomore transfer from Ohio, Keevin Tyus will bring his athletic 6'5 frame into the starting lineup at the small forward. Freshman, Matt Whitmire will add a little local flavor to the Cougar lineup as the former Bradley Central Bear will see plenty of time at the forward position.
"Keevin is one of those high energy guys," the coach explained. "His motor is always in high gear. Matt is very steady and is a smart kid and we are looking forward to seeing these two guys develop and work together."
The center position is wide open as Sophomore transfer, Travis Wildgoose from the Bahamas will see considerable time as will incoming freshman, Dontae Lippert from Murfreesboro Oakland High School. Whitmire will also see time at center as will 6'8 freshman, Marcellus Roberts from Knox Central High School and 6'6 freshman, Ethan Hayes from Anderson County, Tennessee.
"The five spot is really wide open," said Cigliano. "We have a group of very athletic guys that can all switch back and forth from the four and the five spot depending on the foul situation and matchups with our opponent."
Dansby along with Jay Cade, a freshman from Gibbs High School will be in the mix at guard when he returns from an ankle injury as will Simon Clifford from Louisville, Kentucky.
The conference schedule will be as tough as always with Volunteer State, Southwest Tennessee, Walters State, Roane State, Chattanooga State and Cleveland State among others, jockeying back and forth for the top seeds come tournament time in March at Roane State.
"It will be a tough schedule as always," concluded Cigliano. "There are several teams that will be strong, a lot of the guys from Motlow transfered to Southwest when their coach got the job out there so that'll be interesting. But really we are concentrating on our game and learning to work together and get healthy and get better day by day. We're excited about the possibilities of this team when the tournament rolls around."