Pourchier saw a team already known for a tradition of success. The Hornets had finished the 2011-12 season with a 25-7 record, but they fell short of a Southern States Athletic Conference championship.
The roster was stacked with talent, but it didn’t function as a team.
Pourchier wanted to change that shortcoming.
Upon his arrival from former conference rival Reinhardt, he challenged the players to, first, become a team and, second, win the SSAC title they have all been longing for.
And while the team has yet to face its first opponent, Pourchier seems pleased.
“All of our guys have bought into what we are doing, which, as a coach, is really good to see this early,” said Pourchier. “Usually, you have some guys saying, ‘We did this last year, and we won this many games,’ but we haven’t had that with this group. They want to win a championship.”
Last season, Southern Poly went to the NAIA tournament based on its ranking alone. But after falling short of both the SSAC’s regular-season and tournament championships, that’s something the returning players haven’t forgotten.
“Our seniors are hanging their hat on that — bringing a banner for us to hang in this gym,” Pourchier said.
Pourchier said the players buy in more every day, which is all he can ask of them. He isn’t looking to change the tradition at Southern Poly, but he would like to see a shift in the culture.
“We want to make sure that our guys are going to class and doing the right things on campus to represent our university,” Pourchier said. “We don’t want to change anything on the scheme as far as basketball and winning … but to be more of a team.
“We want to be a family. We want to look out for each other, not only on the court. We want to take care of our business in the classroom. I think that’s one area where they struggled in years before.”
Pourchier said many of the players come to Southern Poly to play basketball, and a degree is an afterthought. He would like to change that.
“I want them to see that basketball is going to end one day, whether you like it or not,” he said. “They need to stay focused.”
So far, the players are giving him positive feedback.
The Hornets return six players from last season, but only two — C.J. McElrath and Cortez Irby — made significant contributions. Add to that some talented newcomers, including several transfers, a new coaching staff and a new system of play and it could be hard for anyone to evaluate their potential before they have even played a scrimmage.
“There are a lot of new faces, new players — new coaches all trying to jell into one,” Pourchier said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes us a while to get to know each other and how they like to play and how I like to coach. It’s a whole system thing. Hopefully, we get better each game and, by the end of the season, we are competing for a conference championship and a spot in the national tournament.”
McElrath, a 6-foot-2 senior guard, is one of the Hornets’ leading returners. A solid shooter who shot 33 percent on 3-pointers last year, he will complement point guards Martavis Kee and Chase Robinson.
Also expecting to contribute are two transfers from NCAA Division I colleges — junior forward Kevin Phillip (Drexel) and senior guard/forward Artie Marine (Kennesaw State).
“(Artie) could be our glue guy this year and hold us all together,” Pourchier said. “He does whatever we ask him to. He guards, he defends, he makes the extra passes, he crashes the glass — just the extra things that as a coach you like. If we didn’t have him, we might be leaking in a few players.”
Southern Poly also added former Hillgrove standout Marcus Dortch, a freshman, to its roster.
The team isn’t taking the NAIA’s preseason coaches’ poll too seriously. Pourchier credited the program’s reputation for the No. 6 ranking.
“Nobody has played any games,” he said. “Those are just coaches voting basically on the tradition of Southern Poly being really good, ranking them in the poll. That’s more respect for the program that has us ranked so high.”
Keeping that ranking won’t be easy.
The Hornets, who play their lone scrimmage Saturday, open their season Tuesday with Point University. Two weeks later Pourchier will lead the Hornets against his former Reinhardt team.
As far as the SSAC is concerned, there is no front runner. Lee University is ranked 16th in the NAIA preseason poll, with Loyola (La.) also receiving several votes. Four conference teams went to the NAIA tournament a season ago.
“Each week is a battle,” Pourchier said. “Our conference is extremely tough. If you go on the road in this conference and win, it’s a good win. It’s extremely tough on the road. I don’t expect anything less than a challenge every night