After stumbling to a 3-28 finish in Lewis Preston’s first year as coach, the Owls’ upcoming season is expecting to have a much different outcome, and there’s plenty working in their favor to produce better results.
“One of the things I tell the guys is that it’s about the results,” Preston said. “It’s not always guaranteed, but if you put the work in and are willing to translate it into 40 minutes, you’ll have a chance to get the results that you want.”
The one crucial thing the Owls have on their side is that they have three returning starters with a year in Preston’s system. They’re also a year older and are expecting to be a year stronger after a tumultuous offseason.
Senior guard Markeith Cummings was named to the Atlantic Sun’s preseason all-conference team after averaging 15.4 points and 5.4 rebounds last season. Meanwhile, sophomore Delbert Love is coming off a stellar debut in which he averaged 12.4 points and was an all-freshman team member in the A-Sun.
Kennesaw State’s leading defender, senior Aaron Anderson, is also back after leading the A-Sun with 9.0 rebounds a game.
Junior forwards Brandon Dawson and Andrew Osemhen are veterans who have contributed as starters and reserves, and they could also be starters inside the paint when the season gets under way Nov. 9 at Southeastern Conference power Tennessee.
“We know that, if we want to win, we have to win this year,” Anderson said. “We don’t want to go out with a bad taste in our mouth. We want to do it for the freshmen and set the tone for them.”
Kennesaw State’s one key loss was former Kennesaw Mountain High School standout Spencer Dixon, who averaged 13.4 points a game last season.
One positive for the Owls is that they will no longer have to contend with last year’s A-Sun champion, with Belmont having left for the Ohio Valley Conference. In the Bears’ place came Northern Kentucky from the Division II Great Lakes Valley Conference.
Kennesaw State, which was picked to finish last in the A-Sun coaches’ Poll, will still have its hands full with in-state rival Mercer, which was picked to win the conference. USC Upstate, Florida Gulf Coast and North Florida rounded out the top four.
“I’m excited about the fact that we’re continuing to get better each day,” Preston said. “I’m hoping we can fly under the radar screen a little bit, and I am excited about every team we play.”
In an attempt to improve its win total and avoid another winless record in conference play, Preston recruited five freshmen who should either contribute this year.
Freshman Yonel Brown comes to Kennesaw State after scoring 1,299 career points and making 154 3-pointers for Berkmar High School in Lawrenceville.
Love will be reunited with Myles Hamilton, his former teammate at Cleveland’s St. Edward High School, and freshman guard Cole Hobbs of Greater Atlanta Christian School in Norcross can be a scoring threat. Two freshman forwards, Jordan Montgomery and Nigel Pruitt, are showing they can be solid defenders.
“Our freshmen, I think they’re swimming a little bit,” Preston said. “A couple of them might be close to drowning, but I think they still have their life preservers on with the amount of stuff we’re throwing at them.”
The Owls also added Auburn transfers Bernard Morena and Willy Kouassi, but the Ivory Coast natives will have to sit out the 2012-13 season because of NCAA transfer rules.
Another strenuous non-conference schedule is on tap to help gear the Kennesaw State up for conference play, and it all starts with Tennessee. The Volunteers — led by former McEachern High star Trae Golden — made the National Invitation Tournament last year.
The Owls will also travel to a pair of Big East Confence schools — Notre Dame and Pittsburgh — in December.
After an exhibition with Piedmont on Thursday, Kennesaw State won’t play its first regular-season home game until Georgia Southern visits Nov. 21. The Owls will also host Chattanooga and Charlotte before A-Sun play begins Dec. 31 at home against Florida Gulf Coast.
“There is newfound energy on this team, and we’re all excited about the season,” Osemhen said. “Every game, we want to come out and work hard, make the crowd happy and, hopefully, come out with a ‘W.’”