Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Familiar names changes sports

A name familiar to JSU basketball fans made the transaction wire today.

Not only is Dave Dagostino changing schools. He's changing sports.

The former JSU women's basketball coach, who had been an assistant women's coach at West Virginia, is now the new baseball coach at his alma mater -- Division III Union (N.Y.) College.

“I had a tremendous experience at Union College as a student-athlete and as a coach,” Dagostino said in the university's announcement of his hiring. “The Union College community holds a very special place in my heart and I am extremely appreciative of the opportunity to work with Jim McLaughlin and the entire Union College family on re-establishing the proud tradition of our baseball program”

Dagostino, who once hit safely in 30 straight games, lettered for four years on the Dutchmen baseball team from 1991-95. He was selected captain and the team’s Most Valuable Player. He was named a Division III all-star.

His resume also includes a stint as Union's assistant baseball and women's basketball coach from 1996-99.

Worth a look

If you can tear yourself away from the Iron Bowl festivities, it might be worth looking into JSU's basketball game with VMI Saturday afternoon.

The Keydets lead the country in scoring and have at least five players averaging in double figures.

It'll make for an interesting contrast to the defensive mindset JSU coach James Green has impressed upon his players.

The two teams played a couple years ago in a tournament at William & Mary and JSU won 87-85. That game started out a shootout, with JSU leading 58-55 at halftime, but settled down in the second half with the teams combining for 59 points.

Dorien Brown basket in the paint with 18 seconds left put JSU 86-85 and Courtney Bradley's free throw at 0:05 brought the final margin.

Twins Chavis and Travis Holmes had 18 and 16, respectively, for VMI in that game -- and they're back. Travis Holmes missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Shocked the world

The JSU basketball faithful expected good things from the hiring of James Green as coach, but maybe not this fast.

The Gamecocks became the latest giant killers in the basketball world -- joining, among others, Mercer and (Saturday's opponent) VMI -- when they stunned Massachusetts Monday night 75-74.

Mercer, of course, swept Alabama and Auburn. VMI outgunned Kentucky with 108 points.

JSU, a 17-point underdog, scored the last six points of the game in the final 23 seconds to pull it off. Brandon Crawford hit a big four-point play and Jonathan Toles scored the winning basket with eight seconds left.

“Coach told me to go with it on the last shot,” Toles said. “I wasn’t thinking about getting fouled, because they weren’t fouling me all night, so I just went to the basket and made it. I’ve been waiting for a long time to have the ball for a chance at a game winner. All of the hard work we’ve put in paid off for us tonight.”

It has to be the Gamecocks' biggest victory since moving to Division I. They almost beat Arkansas a couple years ago, but they closed the deal on this night.

Of course, the game that won the Division II national championship was the biggest win they've ever had. What other games would fit into your list of JSU's all-time top 10 biggest basketball victories.

Response welcome.

Monday, November 24, 2008

New podcast up

The latest edition of The Star's JSU Sports Podcast is up. Al and I talk about whether Maine deserved to get into the football playoff field ahead of Jax State, and look ahead to the 2009 season.

We also talk about JSU's big, double-overtime win at Georgia State on Saturday, and look ahead to Monday night's tip-off at UMass.

Click here to load the file in your browser, or visit the XML page here to subscribe. Or, just do it the easy way and sign up through iTunes.

If you have comments or questions you'd like us to address next week, send me an e-mail at

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Now the waiting game starts

With all the games that impact its playoff future in the books, Jacksonville State will put its hopes in Ohio Valley Conference officials to make its case.

It appears in some JSU circles to come down to a choice between 10-2 Liberty and the 8-3 Gamecocks for one of the final at-large spots.

So, it would appear it's give the playoff field Liberty and give the Gamecocks death.

"I have to leave it to (OVC commissioner) Jon Steinbrecher to be our Patrick Henry," JSU coach Jack Crowe said.

Here's what happened to impact idle JSU's chances Saturday.

Eastern Kentucky won the OVC championship and automatic bid by blocking a UT Martin field goal on the last play of the game. New Hampshire held on to beat beat Maine. Wofford beat Furman. And Liberty beat Elon.

That left Liberty 10-2, but LU has two non-Division I wins and a loss to reclassifying Presbyterian. JSU has won its last three in a row.

Check out Sunday's Star for more.

Moment of truth

The moment of truth arrives for the Jacksonville State football team Sunday at 6 p.m.

That's when the Gamecocks discover if they're in or out of the NCAA playoffs, although I suspect they'll have an inkling several hours before that.

There are compelling arguments on both sides of the issue.

On the FOR side: They will be one of the hottest teams in the country, having won their last three games in a row; if the process is anything like the one in basketball, that accounts for something. They also beat one of the teams from their own league they figure to be competing against (Tennessee State). And they have an impact player in quarterback Ryan Perrilloux.

On the CON side: They lost to two of the teams from their own league they figure to be competing against -- UT Martin and Eastern Kentucky, teams playing each other Saturday for an automatic bid. And Tennessee State beat both of them. The CAA should have an overwhelming number of options, which will reduce spots for everybody else.

I expect the gamecocks to be out and spending the next few days gnashing their teeth over what might have been. Look at it this way -- at least they got another week of practice out of the suspense.

Do you think they're in or out? Post your argument for or against. Beat on the system if you want. As Dr. Frazier Crane said, "I'm listening." How many of you are out there talking?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A winning formula: Early to bed, early to rise

You need to be an early riser if you’re going to play basketball for James Green.

The new Jacksonville State basketball coach has his troops up-and-at-‘em for practice at 5:30.


What can the Gamecocks possibly get done at the crack of dawn that they can’t get done at a more traditional practice time late in the afternoon? A lot, Green says.

“A good keen focus, discipline,” Green said. “When we wake up, we’ve got basketball on our mind. We don’t have that ‘we’ve had a bad day’ (attitude). Things come up during the day that distract us. Not that we can’t come to practice and do a good job (in the afternoon), but I think we’re so clear.

“I think it sets the tone for what we’re going to be about in terms of work and commitment. I think when you’ve got a group of guys who’ll make a commitment to get up in the morning to come in and really go to work, I think when they have some tough moments during the season or within a game, they’ll have something to reflect back on in terms of what they put into it and they’re not going to easily just lay down because of that.”

A lot of teams do the early-morning thing when they have two-a-days early in the season, but Green — taking a page from former Temple coach John Chaney — carries it on throughout the year. He’s done it everywhere he’s been.

Within reason, of course. He won't call a practice early after the team gets home late from a game or the coaches get in late from recruiting. Weekend workouts are usually 7 or 8 a.m. The Gamecocks practiced at 12:30 p.m. Saturday after returning from their season-opening loss at South Carolina Friday night.

“When we first started it, we had conflicts with practice times and I’d rather be consistent with our time,” Green said. “Then we figured out it worked well with guys being up and being ready for class.

“It gives them an opportunity to do some things that normal students do in the afternoon. And it gets them in the bed at night. Sometimes it takes a while for them to realize I need to go to bed around 9 o’clock in order to get up and do this in a professional-like way.”

Green said he hasn’t had any resistance from the players about the early-morning regimen. But then, he’s not the type to put up with any, either.

“Preseason, when he had to get up, no balls, just running and conditioning the whole thing (was tough),” freshman forward Brandon Crawford said, “but 5:30’s not bad any more.

“We’re getting more into the flow of things, so it’s making it easier on us. Instead of coming out and struggling with it, we’re getting used to it. Everything is getting to be second nature.”

Monday, November 17, 2008

MBB: Post help on the way?

The Gamecocks could have freshman Brylle Kamen available as early as their game Saturday at Georgia State.
While officially the 6-7 freshman remains out and JSU officials are hopeful of hearing something official from the NCAA by the end of the week, sources said Kaman has at least satisfied his two-game suspension for two games he played in France before signing on with the Gamecocks.
So, he lost two NCAA games and a bunch of practice time, according to sources, for what amounted to 45 measly seconds of two games overseas in which he didn’t even touch the ball.
JSU coach James Green was unaware of any change in Kamen’s status.
“When we get him Saturday?” he asked quizzically. “I can’t expect anything until I know that he’s going to be (there) and I don’t know that we’ll know an answer to that.”
Whenever the Gamecocks get Kamen back, they know exactly what he’ll add to the team. He’ll give the Gamecocks valuable depth and versatility in the post.
“When you look at (Amadou Mbodji’s) minutes in the last game (32 vs. South Carolina),” Green said, “we want him to be able to play those minutes, but we probably could have used another five minutes of rest.
“Right now, he probably can be very effective playing 28 minutes, so we need some other guys to step up and share some of those minutes, and (Kamen) would be a possibility.”

Friday, November 14, 2008

Reports: softball signs two pitchers

Various media outlets are reporting the early signing of two pitchers for the JSU softball team.
The Gamecocks reportedly picked up Wewahitchka, Fla., pitcher Samantha Rich, arguably the most dominant player in Northwest Florida the past two years, according to the News Herald of Panama City. And they signed Ider's Hilary Phillips, the Times-Journal of Dekalb County reported.
Rich picked JSU from a lengthy list of suitors that included UCF, Florida State, LSU, Virginia Tech, Michigan, Illinois, South Carolina and Tulsa, the newspaper said.
Rich told the paper the recruiting process "has been crazy" and the decision was "one of the hardest ... I've ever had to make."
According to the paper, Rich is 56-6 with the Lady Gators, including 20-2 last year. She also has hit over .400 with more than 100 RBIs and a growing school-record 26 home runs.
Her team has reached the state Final Four in each of her three seasons, losing in the semifinals her freshman year before breaking through with consecutive titles. Wewahitchka has the smallest enrollment in Class 2A.
"She's going to bring a lot to their program immediately, in the (pitching) circle and with the bat," Wewahitchka coach Coy Adkins told the paper. "...I think if she stays healthy she can be a contender not only for (OVC) Freshman of the Year but Player of the Year ... She's got such a reputation now that a lot of teams are beat before they get on the field against her."

Phillips holds the state record for career wins with a mark of 149-27. With 2,155 career strikeouts, she closing in on that record, too. She finished 30-0 with 341 strikeouts and a 0.27 earned run average last spring while leading Ider to its second Class 2A state championship in three years. As the team's leadoff batter, she hit .438 with 53 runs, 21 RBIs and more walks than strikeouts (13 to 11) in 142 at-bats.
"I think she'll fit in right there with the type of players they have," Ider coach David Hughes told the paper. I think she’ll go and be a great contributor for them in a lot of different ways."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

WBB gets big signee

The JSU women’s basketball team scored a major recruiting coup in Wednesday’s opening of the early signing period when Danielle Vaughn, a 6-1 post from Sparkman, signed and sent her letter of intent.
Vaughn is considered one of the top five posts in Alabama this year, according to one of the statewide girls basketball recruiting services.
Expect the Gamecocks to sign more post players in the future to balance out their roster.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Random notes

Cleaning out a notebook on a Tuesday night ...

FOOTBALL: It doesn't look as if the Gamecocks will have either center Reggie Wade or fullback Alphonso Freeney for Saturday's regular-season finale against Tennessee State.
Freeney went to Birmingham to have his broken hand evaluated and came back with a cast.
"They say there's a chance he could play down the road somewhere if that were to happen," coach Jack Crowe said. "He's not going to be practicing (this week)."
Crowe said there was "not any chance" Wade would play after suffering a high ankle sprain in practice last week.

VOLLEYBALL: The Gamecocks' hopes for making the OVC Tournament stayed alive Tuesday night when Tennessee State fell to Morehead 3-0. TSU and UT Martin both have to lose their two matches this weekend and JSU has to beat Murray and UTM (by a 3-0 score) to secure a spot.
Next up for TSU is Eastern Illinois, a team that is 4-23 overall but beat the Lady Tigers earlier this year 3-2 for its only OVC victory of the season.

BASKETBALL RECRUITING: The JSU women's team expects to sign one in-state post player Wednesday. The men's program is hopeful of hitting what coach James Green called "a home run" during the early-signing period.
Both coaches remained mum Tuesday on identifying their prospects.

MORE HOOPS: If you watched the JSU men practice Tuesday, you saw freshman Brylle Kamen participating in drills, so it appears there has been some positive movement on his eligibility issue. However, he isn't expected to travel with the team to the opener at South Carolina.

The JSU women could be without two veterans for their opener with Samford Friday. They are awaiting analysis of MRIs on sophomore guard Danielle Beneby and guard Cassi Stuart, the team's only senior. Both players sustained a possible torn meniscus that could require surgery.
Meanwhile, junior guard Eren McMichael and freshman guard Chase Ogden both have returned to practice after missing time over preseason injuries.
The team's projected starting lineup for Friday's game looks like this -- Kelsey Johnikin, Zenobia Pitts, Charlease Williams, Paris Hollingsworth and Jolie Efezokhae.

FB: Title road leads through J'ville

When James Webster got the Tennessee State coaching job, one of the first things he did was grab the most recent copy of Ohio Valley Conference statistics to see what he was up against.
It didn’t take him long to decide the road to the OVC championship went through Jacksonville State, largely because the Gamecocks were at or near the top in three specific categories — rushing offense, rushing defense and total defense. He still feels that way.
Don’t look now, but Webster’s Tigers are leading the league in each of those three categories this week. They No. 1 in rushing (206.0 yards per game), No. 1 in rushing defense (124.0 ypg) and No. 1 in total defense (315.9). Jax State is 2, 4 and 3, respectively, in those three categories.
Individually, the Tigers have the OVC’s leading rusher (Javarris Williams, 103.7 ypg, 15 TDs) and quarterback Antonio Heffner leads the league in total offense (266.9 ypg).
“I’m real excited about the statistics we have,” Webster said. “That’s very, very tough to do, it’s a tough league, a tough physical league. You’re not just gonna hand the ball off and run it. You’ve got to be physical in this league.
“It’s a league of quarterbacks, but you better be physical and you'd better be tough. It’s no place for the weak of heart in this league. You ought to be able to smack people in the face. If you’re not a physical football team, it’s gonna be difficult to be successful in this league.”
The Tigers may have risen to the top of the OVC in the statistical categories Webster holds most dear, but guess who stands in their way of winning the OVC title — that same JSU team coach has so much respect for.
“I still believe the championship goes through Jacksonville State; you have to be able to beat them to have a chance,” Webster said. “That doesn’t mean you can’t beat them and still win the league, but they’ve shown they’re a consistent program. They’ve done a great job of building a winning program there, they’re not going to have a down year, up and down. They’re going to be good every year, at the top or near the top, so you’re gonna have to beat them.
“I’ve tried to put together a football team that can compete on the field with them in those areas. It’s what they’ve done ever since they’ve come into the league and what they're still doing.”

Monday, November 10, 2008

MBB: In with the new

Here’s a piece of interesting trivia regarding Jacksonville State’s season opener Friday at South Carolina. And, no, it doesn’t have anything to do with the only two Division I Gamecocks playing each other.

The JSU-USC game is one of three Division I season openers that feature new head coaches on both benches.

JSU, of course, is coached by James Green, hired to replace Mike LaPlante last spring. USC is coached by former Western Kentucky coach Darrin Horn.

The other two openers with two new head coaches are St. Francis (Pa.) (Don Friday) vs. Texas Tech (Pat Knight) and Pepperdine (Tom Asbury, a former Alabama assistant) vs. Division II Cal State-Monterey Bay (Rob Bishop).

There are 43 head coaches new to their programs in Division I basketball this season.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Nold: "Never again"

It’s been a different kind of year for JSU volleyball coach Rick Nold, and one he vows to “never have it again … Not for the same reason.“
After averaging 21 wins over the last five years with two trips to the NCAA Tournament, the Gamecocks have fallen on hard times. They are 7-18 overall, 3-11 in the OVC this year.
They have never had a losing season under Nold before this year. They went 14-14 in his first season, but haven‘t won fewer than 18 matches or lost more than 11 -- against an increasingly more demanding schedule -- since.
The Gamecocks have a young squad, and Nold insists “we’re not very far off of being a really good team,” but things just haven’t fallen right for them. They thought they were getting a player to build around and didn’t learn it wasn’t going to happen until late, and then they suffered a major injury.
“Sometimes you’re gonna have those years,” Nold said. “We’ll deal with it and make sure we don’t get in that situation again.
“It’s always good to experience a little of everything -- but not twice.”
Interestingly, the Gamecocks still have a mathematical shot at making the conference tournament.
At lot of things have to happen, including running the table in their last four OVC matches -- all on the road -- and sweeping UT Martin 3-0 in the final match of the year. They play Eastern Illinois (4-21) and SE Missouri (11-11) this weekend, before finishing at Murray State (12-12) and Martin (8-20).

Monday, November 3, 2008

Men's basketball starters for West Georgia

The JSU men's basketball team will take the floor for new coach James Green against outside competition for the first time Wednesday when it plays West Georgia in the first of its two exhibitions. Tip off is 7 p.m.

The Gamecocks are expected to start DeAndre Bray, Jeremy Bynum, Nick Murphy, freshman Stephen Hall and Amadou Mbodji.

A concussion that has slowed Jonathan Toles in recent days will keep the guard out of the starting lineup, but won't keep him from playing in the game.

The Gamecocks open the season Nov. 14 at South Carolina. Their home opener is Nov. 18 against West Georgia.

Their second exhibition is Dec. 13 against Reinhardt.

WBB: Gamecocks swamp undermanned Miles

The JSU women’s basketball team took the floor against outside competition for the first time Monday in an exhibition against Miles and played like it meant something. The Gamecocks swamped their Division II visitors 102-62.

Preseason All-OVC pick Jolie Efezokhae led five JSU scorers in double figures with 33 points. She also had 13 rebounds. Zenobia Pitts had 16 points.

At one point in the game, the Gamecocks could have surrendered all of Efezokhae's points and still led the game by two.

After a tight opening stretch, the Gamecocks pulled away with a 19-4 run that took them from 13-12 down to 31-17 ahead.

In their defense, the Bears were playing shorthanded. They have seven players who couldn't play for reasons that weren't immediately disclosed, three they discovered 30 minutes before the game.

The Gamecocks had three players on the sideline with injuries, but opened the game with a lineup of veterans.

Coach Becky Geyer disclosed earlier in the day her starting lineup -- sophomores Danielle Beneby, Pitts, Charlease Williams and Paris Hollingsworth and junior Efezokhae. It’s the group Geyer anticipates starting in the Nov. 14 season opener against Samford.

“This is kind of the five we’re planning on playing as of right now unless somebody comes in and takes a position away from somebody,” Geyer said.

Erin McMichael (strained knee), Brittany Wiley (strained knee), Chase Ogden (nose surgery) all missed the exhibition with injuries. Geyer said McMichael is close to returning, but Wiley’s injury was a repeat injury and she’s likely to be out another 10 days. Ogden will be out until Nov. 10.

Ann Butehorn was among the 10 Gamecocks available to play. The red shirt freshman missed all of last season with circulation problems in her leg, but had offseason surgery to correct the problem and will play this season with theraputic hose.

This is Geyer’s third season with the Gamecocks. Her previous JSU teams have won 7 and 11, and was picked fifth in the OVC preseason poll. With a veteran group, the Gamecocks should be expected to improve again, but Geyer is smart enough not to declare a specific number of victories this year.

“I think we’re going to be that team that people hate to play because you never know for sure,“ she said. “You come and we’re playing well, we’re going to beat you. Hopefully, we’re more consistent than we were a year ago, with the amount of playing experience. It’s amazing, in practice you can really see our kids have come around. We really hope for great things and being able to compete with everybody we play this year.”

The schedule is impressive, with Big East Georgetown coming to Pete Mathews Coliseum Nov. 16 and a Dec. 29 date at N.C. State. Next year’s schedule will also open some eyes, as they make the return to Georgetown (coupled with a game at Navy) and play Baylor on the trip to the UT-San Antonio’s tournament.

The Gamecocks play a closed superscrimmage with Division III Oglethorpe Saturday.

NOTE: The Gamecocks had a special guest on their bench Monday night. Megan Brittain served as the team’s honorary coach and Geyer was giving thought to letting the 12-year-old Jacksonville girl call a play in the huddle.

Megan just completed a schedule of chemotherapy that was expected to box out her cancer, only to learn it had relocated to another area of her spine.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Women's basketball has Miles to go

JACKSONVILLE -- The Jacksonville State women’s basketball team hits the floor against outside competition for the first time Monday night when it plays Division II Miles College in an exhibition at Pete Mathews Coliseum. Tip-off is 7 p.m.

The Gamecocks were picked fifth in the preseason Ohio Valley Conference coaches poll. They return 11 players and five starters from last year’s 11-19 team, led by preseason all-conference pick Jolie Efezokhae. She averaged 12.6 points and 6.6 rebounds a game last season.

Miles was 17-11 last year, one of the most improved teams in Division II, and was tied for sixth in the SIAC preseason poll. The Lady Bears have three starters among their 10 returning letter winners -- preseason All-SIAC guard Cyntonia Jones (17.4, 3.5); second-team twin sister Cyntauria Jones (9.2, 5.4) and Ashley Orphey (7.6, 3.4).