North Greenville University men’s basketball coach Chad Lister loves puzzles. With a smile on his face, he confidently places all the pieces of his 2010-2011 team on the court, studies them, moves them around, studies some more, and then, after many different lineup versions, practices and exhibitions, he can proclaim that the final version of this year’s Crusader team should be a true work of art.
However, sometimes all the NGU pieces fit together, and at other times that one missing piece may be floating around somewhere between the locker room and the playing floor at Hayes Gymnasium in Tigerville. Lister, who begins his ninth season at NGU, is convinced that last season’s 16-12 squad, which narrowly missed a slot in the NCCAA national championship tournament, will have all the pieces properly aligned. “We’ve got all the pieces here to play a little more up tempo this year, and hopefully we’ll be able to get a few more deflections and steals and some easy baskets from our pressure defense,” Lister said. “We were just a couple of possessions away from winning a lot of games last year. This year’s team has a lot more athleticism and is a year wiser with that extra year under their belts, and that combination should swing the pendulum our way to help us catch a break here and there. If that happens, we should win some games that maybe we didn’t last year.” “This team is ready to do something big, but we can’t put the cart before the horse,” Lister added. “We can’t take the approach that we can go out and win 20 games in the month of November. Our team is ready, but it’s a long season. A lot of people expect us to do some good things this season, so we’re going to have a bulls eye on us. We’re going to get everyone’s best effort. Plus, Paul Harrison’s received a lot of notoriety and he will not fly under radar anymore. Many teams will game plan against us more because we do have mostly the same personnel as last season. That will make it that much more difficult to get to where we want to go. However, looking at our players and knowing what I think we’re capable of, I think the goal of winning 20 games for the first time since we became a four-year institution is a possibility.” North Greenville returns all five starters and nine lettermen for the upcoming campaign. Senior Kyler Booher is only three year letterman for the club, but a host of experienced juniors form the heart of the Crusaders. All-American center Paul Harrison is back along with Luke Lattimer, Jonathan Bozymowski, Zach Shields and Jason Wray. Sophomore point guard Tim Franklin started at point guard last year and Jamaal Pryor and Jimmy Ellis also return. “We’ve got some good leadership on this team, but it’s not dominated by seniors because we only have one in Kyler Booher,” Lister said. “Harrison and Wray are redshirt juniors so they’ve been around for awhile. We’ve got a good nucleus returning, so we have the feel of a veteran team even though we’re still fairly young. So, we’ll have a good combination that will be exciting, but will still make a few mistakes. We do have several guys who’ll be solid leaders on the floor. The pieces are there but we need to create the cohesiveness that only comes from a few more reps with the new and old faces together.” “There are pros and cons to having a lot of depth,” Lister stated. “It’s a good problem to have a lot of guys who can come off the bench because we can play more up tempo. But, the cons are trying to make sure guys are in there long enough to get in their rhythm. We’ll take the pros to having a deep bench however. “ The Crusaders will center their offense around junior Paul Harrison, who averaged 22.4 points per game, which was 10th best in NCAA Division II last year. He also pulled down 8.8 rebounds per contest and shot 63.3% from the field (9th best in NCAA II). “Paul has worked hard and is in great shape this year,” Lister added. “He has to continue to trust his post moves and get stronger. Mentally, he has to handle fact that he’s going to get fouled on nearly every possession this season. He’s done a good job getting ready for that. He has to prove that his great sophomore season was not a fluke. He shoots the ball well from perimeter, so that’s not a problem. He can draw some defenses out and make them play 10 foot and in. His ability to be able to finish with consistent moves down on the block will make the difference between being above average and moving to the next level.” “Kyler Booher is our only senior and he has played the one through four for us, and he’s got an amazing knack for the game of basketball,” Lister explained. “He was an undersized post player when he came here, but he’s one of those guys who can singlehandedly get you back in games like he did against Atlantic Christian in NCCAA playoffs last year. He makes a lot of things happen. He’s always around the ball. Although he doesn’t shoot a high percentage, and he’s not the tallest or biggest guy around, you still want him on the floor because something good’s going to happen.” Three solid juniors that may be the biggest element in the Crusaders’ success include Luke Lattimer, Jonathan Bozymowski, and Zach Shields. The trio combined for 27.1 points and 11.4 rebounds, and Coach Lister is confident of their ability to get the job done. “Those three know the game, are heady type of players, and understand their limitations,” Lister said. “They play within their capabilities, and rebound at a high clip. What makes them valuable is they do not make many mistakes.” Tim Franklin, a sophomore point guard, has been one of the big surprises in early season practice according to Lister. “Tim has practiced very hard and is now more comfortable in our system,” Lister noted. “Tyrell Platt (SO TR) has done a great job filling in until Tim returns to the lineup in December, but Tim really makes a big difference on the court with his speed and defensive ability.” Another sophomore returnee is Jimmy Ellis. “Jimmy had some real hot spots last season, and we know what he’s capable of doing on the court. He will give us some great minutes this season.” With the improved depth NGU has this year, Lister cited several other players who’ll get significant court time. “Jason Wray (JR G) is a super athletic defender and we’re working with him to get more consist on the offensive end. He’s always a big help in there. Jamaal Pryor gives Paul great minutes. He is undersized to play inside, but he really plays hard and is not a bad post defender. He also can score successfully around the basket.” Other newcomers to the Crusaders this year include Ian Harris (SO G Greensboro, NC), Casey Belli (FR G Acworth, GA), Chris Dean (FR G Greer, SC), Phillip Brown (FR F Traveler’s Rest, SC), Drew Ridlen (FR G Greenwood, IN), Tyrell Platt (SO TR G Loxahatchee, FL/Otero JC), and Trevor Greentree (FR SO Greenville, SC/Woodmont HS). “Ian Harris sat out last year as a transfer, and we’ve got to put him in a position to be successful. He’s a super athlete and a hard working young guy who gives it everything every day. Casey Belli is still struggling to recover from surgery from last season and it’s been a struggle for him. He’s continued to rehab and we hope to get him back on the floor. Chris Dean (Greer, SC/Greer HS) is one of the two guys from our area and he’s going to be a very good player for us. Phillip Brown is other local kid from nearby Traveler’s Rest and all he needs is time on the floor to get adjusting to the college game. Drew Ridlen comes to us as a true two guard, but we’ve asked him to play the point some. He can shoot the eyes out and he just needs to keep working on his ball handling and gain confidence on defense. Blake Ferguson works hard every day and you know you’ll get a good effort from him. He’ll push the guys ahead of him for time. Trevor Greentree pushes Paul every day in practice and he’s strong player who can finish around the basket. I see him playing a lot the next few seasons.” Lister noted that the Crusaders’ 2010-2011 schedule is a smorgasbord once again, but it is designed to prepare NGU for conference play next year when the university enters Conference Carolinas. “Scheduling is always an issue here because when you’re an independent, our coaches spend way more time scheduling than other programs because you’ve got to fit your schedule into what you have. So, as a result, you play a wide variety of games with Division I, II and NAIA teams, and you will see different levels of play and looks every night. We will see Lees McRae and Erskine out of Conference Carolinas, which will get us ready for next year, but we will also play Furman and several other good NAIA teams, along with NCCAA teams that have done well in the post-season tournament. It’s a good mix that will keep us on our toes scouting and preparing for different styles of play.” Lister concluded by encouraging Crusader fans to get out to games at Hayes Gym and support his rapidly improving squad. “Fans will really like what they’ll see this season,” he said. “They will enjoy the hustle and up tempo style we’ll play. We need to fill our gym up and make it a tough place to play. We need fans to come out and be loud; be our sixth man. We need fans to be part of the game and be extremely vocal.” Our guys are chomping at the bit to get to Furman on Friday, Nov. 12,” Lister said. “We’ve been competing hard and that will help us down the stretch. But our team is one body with many different parts. We’ve got to put the pieces of the puzzle together, and you hope and pray that you stay healthy and make a long post-season run.”