Head coach Paul Johnson?s first season at Bevill State was a battle to play catch-up that ended on a strong note, with a second place finish in the Alabama Community College Conference?s North Division and a 17-15 record.
After starting the season without a single returning player from the year before and a totally new coaching staff, Johnson pushed his team to a seven-game winning streak and reached the quarterfinals of the ACCC/Region XXII tournament.
This year Johnson hopes to mold his team into a solid contender for the state and
national title. Last year?s inexperienced squad has been replaced by nine returning sophomores, eight of which saw playing time for the Bears while the other is transferring to BSCC from a top NCAA Division I program.
Three of the returning starters come from the southern hemisphere. The three ?blokes? from Australia will be a vital part of any success the Bears have and all will see major minutes on the floor. Tom Jervis, Oliver Mansour and Robbie Cross are all returning sophomores and are all major contributors, according to Johnson.
?Tom Jervis, who is now seven foot, has gained 25 pounds and has made improvements in his game,? Johnson said. ?Oliver Mansour, who was second team all conference, is 6-7 and is up to 230 pound and is one of our captains. Robbie Cross started nearly every game for us last year, and is returning in better shape.?
Even though the Aussies are an exciting part of the team, Johnson has veteran leaders coming back who can make an impact in their final season at Bevill State.
?Jamar Livings, who was also second team all conference, is continuing to get stronger and is shooting the ball like he did last year,? Johnson said. ?Antonio Benjamin has worked very hard over the summer to improve his game, and is emerging as a leader on our team.?
Jerry Prudhomme, Quinton Smith and Michael McKinley are also returning. Johnson hopes that with so many returning players that it will help them establish success in the early season, and carry them through a rigorous conference stretch.
?With all eight returning players seeing action last year we have the advantage of all of them knowing what we are doing and what we are hoping to accomplish as a team,? Johnson said. ?So with all the experience coming back we hope that we can accomplish great things early in season to prepare us down the stretch. We have at least two players coming back at each position, so hopefully that will give us an advantage.?
The one sophomore that did not see action is DeAndre Coleman, who is a transfer from the University of Cincinnati. Johnson hopes that he can make a immediate impact at the 3 and 4 positions.
The 2005-06 season was a mild success according to Johnson. With 16 new players, himself and assistant coach Joe Richardson all coming in fresh, last year was a true definition of a rebuilding year.
?Last year we were very young. Everything was new that I was trying to get across to everyone,? Johnson said. ?So we went at everything at a slower pace then we have been this year. We are already at our December pace from last year. That?s the advantage of having nine returning players ? they know the sets we are running, our defensive philosophy and know what I expect of them.?
Johnson thinks for this team to achieve its full potential chemistry must be found, but with plenty of depth on the roster Johnson hopes to use fresh legs to the team?s advantage.
?The key is for our players to play for Bevill State, as opposed to playing for the number on their jersey. Our bench has 10 to 12 players that can come in and play, and our athletic ability does not drop off much, he said. ?We hope that this makes it difficult for other teams to keep up with us. It is going to take our players carrying out the details of our game plan, and the assignments we give them will be key. The better we play as a team the better we are going to be. Our players are very unselfish. They will do whatever it takes for us to get one stop, or one basket. They will do whatever it takes to win the game.?
Johnson has created a challenging schedule for his team. He feels that stiff competition early will increase success for the Bears in conference play and hopefully into the postseason.
?Our first game with Alabama Southern will be tough. They have a lot of talent, and it will challenge us from the very beginning,? Johnson said. ?The teams that we are going to play early in the schedule are going to be as good as the teams in our conference. So it will not be a surprise for our guys when we play a team in our conference of that caliber.?
Johnson will have the team playing in tough tournaments in Georgia and Florida, as well as challenging preseason play in jamboree tournaments around the southeast, all with the goal of preparing the Bears for the Alabama Community College Conference tournament. Johnson, however, is quick to point out that this year?s conference is going to be as tough as ever.
?Of course Bevill State-Jasper is very good, they are talented and very athletic. Shelton State is very good, as they always are,? Johnson said. ?I think the conference as a whole is up this year.?
Needless to say, Johnson always hopes to be in the mix for a championship, but this year he feels as though his has a chance to make the dream a reality.
?You know as I tell my players I want to go 1-0 30 times and dominate the home court,? he said. ?I just want to compete in every game. If we give 100 percent in every game, and work hard to achieve our goals this season we have a chance to accomplish great things.?
The Bears tip off the 2006-07 season at home on Monday, Nov. 6, against Alabama Southern at 7:30 p.m. Season tickets are still available by calling 1-800-648-3271 ext. 5606.
**2006 Sophomore Class Pictured Above