Belmont men’s basketball coach Rick Byrd has never been one for preseason polls. He even remains rather noncommittal when asked about his expectations for this year’s team.
“I don’t know if it matters what I expect because what you’re really trying to do is the best you can,” said Byrd, who is entering his 25th year of coaching the Bruins. “We all get caught up in our expectations and other peoples’ expectations and really all that does is create stress.”
Last season, the Bruins tied for a share of the Atlantic Sun regular season championship despite losing 66 percent of the scoring from the year before.
“Obviously we’re not shooting for lower than that,” Byrd said. “Whether I have expectations or not, I think this will be a good team.”
The Bruins only lose one player—Keaton Belcher—from last year’s team, making the preseason a stark contrast from 2009.
“It is different because we don’t have to teach quite as much and start from scratch quite as much,” Byrd said. “Last year was more unique to have so many new players. This is kind of more normal.”
Keywords: “kind of.” This year’s team exhibits an unusual amount of depth—making it tough to decide on a starting five.
“It’s really difficult,” Byrd said. “You could name your best five, then I could put five to play it and it would be anybody’s game,” Byrd said. “It’s just that close.”
Sophomore Kerron Johnson and junior Drew Hanlen return at the point guard position. Last year, Hanlen played an average of 23 minutes per game, while Johnson averaged 20 minutes. Byrd said they’ll again battle for playing time.
“Those two guys have proved to be pretty equal last year about any way we could evaluate them,” Byrd said.
Hanlen tied for 1st in the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio with a 2.3:1 rating last year.
This is the one spot on the floor where competition fails to exist. Sophomore Ian Clark averaged 14.9 points last year and was named to the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Freshman All-American team.
“It’s probably the one spot where we have the least depth, but the one spot where we can probably afford it best because Ian is such a talented player,” Byrd said.
Clark, who was also named to the A-Sun Preseason All-Conference team, shot 40 percent from three-point range last year and scored a career high 31 points against both Stetson and North Florida.
Byrd calls the forward position a “logjam.” Seniors Jordan Campbell and Jon House are the most experienced, but true freshman JJ Mann and redshirt freshman Blake Jenkins will also vie for playing time at small forward.
Power forwards Trevor Novack and Brandon Baker will most likely spend most of their time in the front court.
“Some of those guys can move to the two spot or four spot. That’s going to be a challenge for the coaching staff—playing time,” Byrd said.
Juniors Mick Hedgepeth and Scott Saunders are both viable options at center. Hedgepeth underwent knee surgery over the summer, but Byrd said it hasn’t slowed him down.
“We’re really fortunate to have two guys in that position that have the total work effort that those two guys have,” Byrd said. “They have both improved significantly from this time a year ago.”
Byrd also said he wants to run several personnel sets that get Hedgepeth and Saunders on the floor at the same time.