BARBOURVILLE, Ky. -- The Union College men's basketball team kicks off their 2012-13 season tomorrow evening, and in the process will begin a new era in the programs history.
In May, veteran coach Kevin Burton was named the 19th head coach in program history, bringing with him a wealth of experience. Burton previously coached at Lambuth (Tenn.) for seven seasons, amassing a 139-75 record, averaging just under 20 wins a year.
This season, Burton will coach a squad that returns just four student-athletes from the season before, as the Bulldogs welcome 13 newcomers. With so many new faces, Burton expects the team to go through some ups and downs.
“We’ve had 33 practices so far, and since day one, everything we’ve tried to insert has been brand new,” said Burton. “So, we’re still in that learning curve where we’re trying to learn about each other and the system, along with defining our roles. Our team is starting to develop and understand how hard we would like to play, and the talent level we have from the top of the depth chart to the bottom is razor thin.
“I can say we will be prepared for every game we play, but we’re also going to have the foresight to keep looking ahead in what we’re trying to accomplish for the whole season, and ultimately in the postseason.”
Looking at the 2012-13 edition of the Bulldogs, Burton expects a team full of versatile athletes that can play numerous positions on the floor.
Starting at point guard, it is expected that three freshman newcomers - Matthew Thomas, Tanner Broughton and Sean Brown - will battle for playing time all season. Outside of that, Burton expects the other members of the team to match up at certain positions depending on the opponent.
A player who has shined in preseason practices is one of the few returnees on the team in senior guard Josh Smith, who will likely see plenty of playing time for UC. Last season, Smith saw playing time in all 31 games Union played starting four contests. In all, Smith averaged 5.9 points per game, scoring a career high 20 points off the bench in a Union win over Virginia Intermont.
The other returnees for the Bulldogs include senior guard James Strange, who started 23 games last season, and sophomore guard Daniel Fernandez-Munkholm, who played in 24 games last season. The last returnee is sophomore forward Tyler Wagner, who played in eight games last year.
Outside of those four, Union has all newcomers on the roster. However, most the newcomers have collegiate playing experience, as nine of the 13 newcomers are transfers from other institutions.
The schedule this Union team will play will be challenging, as it features a slate of challenging out-of-conference games, along with a regular Appalachian Athletic Conference schedule.
The Bulldogs begin their season on Monday hosting Brescia (Ky.) at Robsion Arena, followed up by the annual Bulldog Classic, in which UC will host Cincinnati Christian (Ohio) and Pensacola Christian (Fla.). However, following a home game against West Virginia-Parkersburg on Nov. 6, Union hits the road for four straight contests, before returning home to play Olivet (Mich.) on Nov. 20.
After playing a contest at local rival Cumberlands (Ky.) on Nov. 24, Union opens AAC play on Nov. 28 at home against St. Andrews (N.C.). They will follow that up with a long December road trip that will see the team play six straight games away from home.
Once the calendar turns to 2013, the Bulldogs will face their regular AAC opponents, leading up to the 2013 AAC Tournament, which will be played from Feb. 20-23 in Kingsport, Tenn. In the AAC preseason poll, defending regular season and tournament champion Tennessee Wesleyan was picked first, as the Bulldogs were slated to finish seventh in the poll.
Overall, Burton is excited to coach a team with so many new, but eager players. While there will be a transition period, Burton hopes the Bulldogs will be a squad that improves from game-to-game, and eventually develops into a serious contender by seasons end.
“Like any coach, I’m hoping that by the time we get to the conference tournament we’re peaking,” said Burton. “It seems to me that we have a group of guys that have ambition. That is a key piece of a foundation of wanting to have team success.
“My intentions are that we represent Union College, and the tradition of our program in the best light we possibly can. Our players have heard that countless times throughout the first couple months of practice, and they seem to have an eagerness to follow through on it.”