Just around the corner…

Freshman forward Jere Vucica looks for an opportunity to pass in the Oct. 23 Purple Pandemonium pre-season kickoff game while teammates Lazar Petrov and Corey Ricks close in.

The UNA Lions men’s and women’s basketball teams have been preparing for the upcoming season.

The men’s team travelled to Birmingham Nov. 3 to play the University of Alabama in Birmingham in an exhibition match. The Lions fell 98-81 to the Division I Blazers.

“We have had one out of 22 pretty good practices,” said Bobby Champagne, UNA men’s head basketball coach.

Champagne said the whole team has been healthy for about three weeks.

“We’ve been fighting through fatigue and injuries and learning, which is usual with a team that has seven or eight new guys,” Champagne said.

The Lions have one starter returning this year and seven new players.

They lost their two leading scorers from last year in Beaumont Beasley and Theron Jenkins.

“Somebody better fill that role,” Champagne said. “We lost about 75 to 76 percent of our scoring and about 70 percent of our rebounding last season, so somebody better step up.”

Wes Long, junior guard, had 9.3 points per game and 3.1 rebounds per game off the bench last season. The only returning starter is Kenyan Jackson, who started 24 games for UNA last season.

“I think our overall depth is pretty good,” Champagne said. “We’ve got a good mix of juniors, seniors, sophomores and freshmen. I don’t think returning starters is as big of an issue as it looks on paper.”

Of the seven newcomers, Jere Vucica is the only freshman. The others are transfer students, including Louisiana Tech transfer Lonnie Smith, who averaged 3.75 points for the D-I Bulldogs.

Champagne and the Lions will look to run an up-tempo offense this season.

“We try to score 100 as quick as we can,” Champagne said. “We play some pretty entertaining basketball, I think.”

The Lions will look to run man-to-man with a mixture of zone defense, looking to score easy baskets off turnovers and fast breaks.

“That will be the deciding factor on how good this team can be — how quickly we gel and how much team chemistry we have through the season,” Champagne said.

The women’s basketball team lost 69-58 to Tennessee State Nov. 1 in its first exhibition game of the season.

The Lions were picked to finish fifth in the GSC this season, according to the coaches’ poll provided by a recent GSC press release.

“That is probably right considering the fact that eight out of 13 players are freshmen or sophomores,” said Terry Fowler, head coach. “Basically, we have a new team in here. Only two upperclassmen played considerable minutes last season.”

Fowler said the youth may cause problems early on, but he believes the team has the talent to compete and be successful.

Mekena Randle, a transfer from Arkansas State, leads a group of five newcomers. Randle had a 44 percent shooting percentage in 26 games last season for the Red Wolves.

“Practice has been good; I have been pleased with our practices,” Fowler said.

Fowler said the biggest problem the Lions face is the transition from one system to another.

“There are things we just don’t know,” Fowler said. “We’re trying to teach a lot of players how we do things at UNA. When you have been doing things the way you have done them for most of your life, it is a tough adjustment to break those old habits.”

The Lions will look to their defense to win games for them.

“It is probably more important for us that we are a great defensive team, so that is where we need to continue to improve on the defensive end of the court,” Fowler said. “Hopefully, we can create some offense with our defense.”

The Lions will use man-to-man as the primary defense, running zone on certain occasions.

Playing as a team is the key to success for this team, not the play of an individual standout.

“This is not a team that has one superstar player; it’s a team that everything we do we have to do together,” Fowler said. “We have to gang score; we have to gang rebound.”

The men’s team will look to make it to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008 with a mixture of under- and upperclassmen. They will begin their run in Flowers Hall Nov. 12 at 8 p.m. against Fisk.

The women’s team will use its play-as-a-team mentality to try to have a repeat performance from 2011, when the Lions had a 21-7 record, their first NCAA tournament berth since 1994.

Both teams host their first home games Nov. 12 against Fisk at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. in Flowers Hall.