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2011-12 Blue Ribbon Preview - USC Upstate
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2011-12 Blue Ribbon Preview - USC Upstate
Team preview: USC Upstate
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USC Upstate Spartans
Last Season 5-25 (.167)
Conference Record 4-16 (11th)
Starters Lost/Returning 3/2
Coach Eddie Payne (Wake Forest '73)
Record At School 120-146 (9 years)
Career Record 380-379 (26 years)
RPI Last 5 years N/A-306-287-307-311
Eddie Payne has coached basketball long enough to know that teams with the best talent often do pretty well.

He has also been around enough to understand that when said talent is young, it can cause some real headaches.

But after struggling through a 5-25 2010-11 campaign, Payne will gladly take a roster that includes 11 freshmen and sophomores among its 15 members, if those underclassmen have the ability to turn things around in Spartanburg.

"Our eight best players are freshmen and sophomores," Payne said. "We're more talented and bigger. We're better basketball players, but we have less experience. I feel good, but I also understand that playing well at this level as a freshman takes some time."


Now finally clear of a four-year transition to Division I, Upstate can begin to build a program based on full membership in the Atlantic Sun. That's what Payne has been selling to the last two classes, and with four freshmen and two redshirts ready for action this year, the Spartans should be improved over last year's outfit.

"We're deeper, and we'll be able to play more people," he said. "We'll become a little more aggressive defensively. We've got 10 kids we can get in there, and that will allow us to evaluate playing time more based on defense, because we have more numbers.

"Our depth will allow kids to play harder. We can substitute more and roll more kids in and out."

At best, the Spartans move out of the A-Sun's second division and begin a climb toward contention. Even if that remains something of a dream, Payne believes the program is moving forward.

"At least we have a chance to pull ourselves out of this transitional period and be competitive."

One of the youngsters about whom Payne is excited is 6-6, 215-pound sophomore forward Torrey Craig (14.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg), who demonstrated an ability to perform well as a first-year player and was even better in conference play (16.4 ppg) than he was in non-league games. Craig can shoot from the outside, and he gives the Spartans a reliable first option, even if the more talented team means he might not have to produce big numbers.

"It will be interesting to see how he adjusts to a roster where he doesn't have to score as much," Payne said. "We're working with him on his ball handling and defense and taking the attention he's going to draw and turning himself into a better passer. He averaged 15.0 points and 7.5 rebounds last year. That's not bad for a freshman."

The Spartans' other returning starter is 6-8, 246-pound sophomore Ricardo Glenn (5.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg). Glenn proved he could board and defend last year, then dropped some weight and became stronger in the offseason. Don't expect Glenn to score a whole lot more, but his improved body will make Upstate more formidable inside.

Payne thinks 6-8, 200-pound sophomore transfer Jodd Maxey (South Carolina State/Winder-Barrow HS/Statham, Ga.) can make an immediate impact. He averaged 2.1 ppg and 1.8 rpg at South Carolina State, and Payne considers him "one of the better offensive rebounders I've coached." Maxey is athletic and tenacious and should help the Spartans improve on last year's minus-3.2 rebounding deficit.

Another transfer, 6-10, 210-pound sophomore Aru Kok (Western Texas College/Virginia State/South Kent HS/Perth, Australia) should provide help inside. The biggest problem for him is getting strong enough to make an impact.

"He's thin and raw, but he's good enough to challenge at the five spot and give you some minutes, if the other guys aren't getting it done," Payne said.

One of those "other guys" is 6-8, 220-pound sophomore Babatunde Olumuyiwa (6.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg), who has talent but needs to take care of the ancillary responsibilities that come with being a Division I player.

"He needs to become more consistent," Payne said. "He's raw and an immature kid. He's done a nice job trying to improve, but he needs to become a more conscientious student. From an athletic perspective, he's a level above this level."

Payne thinks 6-7, 220-pound senior Chalmers Rogers (2.9 ppg, 1.9 rpg) can get 10-15 minutes a game up front, while 6-6, 218-pound junior Rob Elam, who missed last year with an Achilles injury, "gives you toughness."

The backcourt situation isn't so good from a holdover point of view, with only 6-5, 225-pound senior Carter Cook (4.7 ppg, 2.6 rpg) and 6-5, 210-pound sophomore Shane Porchea (1.7 ppg, 1.3 rpg). Neither is expected to start.

But Payne is happy about the four freshmen he has coming in to handle backcourt chores. They'll be maddening at times, but they have talent.

Begin with 6-2, 165-pound freshman point Mario Blessing (Urspring HS/Kusterdingen, Germany), who likes schnitzel and can drill the long ball. "The kid can make you some shots," Payne said. "He makes good decisions, doesn't turn the ball over and can guard you." Blessing also has the benefit of having played against some German professionals (he took no money himself) during his time in high school, so he's used to some rough stuff.

Expect 6-4, 205-pound freshman Adrian Rodgers (Maine Central Institute/Centennial HS/Alpharetta, Ga.) to see a lot of time at the point, too.

"He played against better competition than most high school players in the New England Prep League," Payne said. "He can make shots and make plays. He has a good change of pace with the basketball and can guard you."

Payne is enamored of 6-2, 180-pound Ty Greene's (Bearden HS/Knoxville, Tenn.) attitude. "He's a tough guy who takes charges and gets loose balls, and there is never an issue of effort or concentration with him," Payne said. But Greene is more than an effort guy. He can also shoot well from long range.

Fred Miller (Chamblee HS/Atlanta), a 6-4, 200-pounder, is an excellent athlete with good instincts who can get to the basket. He'll get a long look.

Junior college transfer Jeremy Ford (Cleveland State CC/Livingstone College/Wade Hampton HS/Varnville, S.C.), a 6-1, 170-pounder, will redshirt.



The Spartans are full-fledged Division I members now, and that's good news. No more waiting for full membership in the Atlantic Sun or telling recruits how good things will be. Now, it's time to build a competitive team. Payne thinks he has done that.

There is depth in the frontcourt, beginning with Craig, who is a nice starting point. Expect Glenn to be improved, and Olumuyiwa to make a greater impact. If Maxey can contribute, and Elam is healthy enough to give some help off the bench, Payne should have a pretty good rotation.

Although it's great that the Spartans have upgraded their guard line talent, relying so heavily on four freshmen can lead to trouble. Still, Blessing and Rodgers should make some solid plays at the point, while Greene and Miller have the potential to score on the wing. There will be some growing pains, but the long-term reward should be worth them.

USC Upstate isn't contending for the league title, but it should surpass last year's total of five wins. The first year of full D-I membership should be exciting, but let's not get carried away.
10-26-2011 07:26 PM
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