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PREVIEW: MBB returners and newcomers ignite a team effort

Gone are the big-time scoring players who drop 20-plus points per game.

Now, the Belmont men’s basketball team will have to rely on pure sweat and an overall team effort in order to continue its usual success in the 2014-15 season.

“Having Ian and Kerron as alumni doesn’t put any points on the scoreboard,” said junior guard Craig Bradshaw. “We have to go out and show everybody that we’re a new Belmont team, and we’ll do the same things those guys did ourselves.”

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Craig Bradshaw

Although the team has had past success and are picked to win the OVC East Division this season, both returners and coaches want the new players to understand they have to work hard to achieve success, and it won’t just happen when they step on the court.

“We’ve won a lot of games, we’ve had a lot of success but this team didn’t earn any of that success. And if you think you can sit back and put on a Belmont uniform and success is just going to happen, then it’s not going to happen,” said Belmont coach Rick Byrd.

Ten out of the 15 total players are freshmen and sophomores. Seven have never played in a Belmont game. With youth comes inexperience.

 “We’re working hard on eliminating youthful mistakes that young teams make. We’ve got to play harder more often, we’ve got to play with more purpose, we’ve got to play with more intent,” said Byrd.

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Reece Chamberlain talks to Evan Bradds

But inexperience means there’s room to grow and possibilities for great potential.

“I think it’s exciting with how much we can improve throughout the year. I think early on we might not be where we want to be, but I think that’s just more effort we can put in and get better each and every game,” said senior point guard Reece Chamberlain.

Working hard in practice is important, but putting in hours outside of training will be the difference-maker, said senior guard Spencer Turner.

“I think just getting in the gym, not only during practice time, not only playing hard in practice, but also before practice, after practice and at night sometimes. Anything can help,” he said.

The upperclassmen aim to help the newcomers get a feel for the immense effort needed to play in a college game.

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Spencer Turner

“The freshmen, they don’t know what it’s like, they haven’t played a game. All of us are upperclassmen who have played, and I think that’s a role that we kind of brought on as leaders, just trying to help the younger guys. Showing them the right way to do things,” said Turner.

Although Belmont won’t face top-tiered teams like Kentucky or North Carolina from last year, the Bruins still welcome tough competition including a preseason-ranked Virginia Commonwealth University team and an always solid program at Butler.

The Bruins return only two starters this season after JJ Mann, Drew Windler and Blake Jenkins graduated in May. However, the team still has a lot of depth from returners in the backcourt, so expect to see Belmont play with three guards this season.

Chamberlain will be heading the pack at point guard followed by redshirt freshman Austin Luke and junior Caleb Chowbay.

Bradshaw, who earned All-OVC Second Team honors last year and had 29 double-figure scoring games with a career-high 25 points at Green Bay in the NIT, will more than likely consistently start as shooting guard alongside fellow classmate and transfer from Virginia, Taylor Barnette.

Turner, junior Jeff Laidig, senior Holden Mobley and redshirt freshman Burton Sampson will also rotate into the guard position.

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Nick Smith

Evan Bradds, four-time OVC Freshman of the Week, will start as forward, while classmate Nick Smith, who scored a few crucial points in big-time games as a freshman, will also see some time in the position. True freshman Amanze Egekeze and redshirt freshman Josh Lester are also possibilities as forwards.

Six-foot-10-inch redshirt freshman Tyler Hadden is ready to put on a Belmont uniform for the first time as a center, followed by newcomer, Mack Mercer.

“There’s not a guy I worry about coming to practice and not working hard,” said Byrd. “It’s just, at times they don’t know how hard they’re capable of playing, and how intently they can play and how much purpose they can play with.”

The returners will hopefully help the younger players realize their potential, said Byrd.

 “We’ve got good senior leadership. They continue to be great leaders and the younger guys need to see what it takes to be a Belmont basketball player.”

The team tips off their 2014-15 season on the road Friday in Dayton, Ohio against Wright State at 6 p.m. The game will be broadcasted on ESPN3.

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