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Let's get it started: Rams open hoops season tonight

ASU’s Demarcus Blunt of Cordele, right, works against Andrew “Bob” Colvin of Dougherty during a Rams preseason practice. The Rams finished a dismal 7-22 last season, but have vowed to atone for that this year with a new roster and a motto for 2011-12: “No excuses.” (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

ASU’s Demarcus Blunt of Cordele, right, works against Andrew “Bob” Colvin of Dougherty during a Rams preseason practice. The Rams finished a dismal 7-22 last season, but have vowed to atone for that this year with a new roster and a motto for 2011-12: “No excuses.” (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

ALBANY -- Whenever Albany State senior Demarcus Blunt thinks about last season, he gets hungry.

He's hungry to prove ASU is better than that embarrassing 7-22 record, and he's hungry to prove the Rams have more leadership than the team that let a late lead unravel in a demoralizing loss in the opening round of their conference tournament, officially ending their season.

Yes, the Rams are hungry to turn around the direction of the program, starting with tonight's season opener at home against Valdosta State.

Want To Go?

WHO: Valdosta State men (1-2) at Albany State men.

WHAT: 2011-12 season opener for Albany State.

WHEN: 7 p.m. today.

WHERE: HPER Gym.

"We gotta eat," said Blunt, echoing one of the team's mottos this season. "We just gotta stay hungry, and we gotta eat with everything we do. Just like if we had a full plate, we gotta eat."

Blunt, a senior from Cordele, is one of two returning starters -- along with senior Marcus Benitez -- and five returning players from a 2010-11 season they would like to forget.

"The thing about a season like that is that you really can't get any worse," said ASU coach Chris Cameron, who enters his sixth year as coach of the Rams. "It made us a little more hungry and a little more humble. We had to go out and get some better ball players."

Last season may have been rock bottom for Cameron, but he is singing a completely different tune this season with almost a whole new roster and a revamped attitude.

"This isn't last year. This is completely the opposite of last year," Cameron said. "Pretty much everybody on this team I can now classify as being a tough individual, unlike last year's team where the majority didn't have the toughness that we needed. This year's team is so competitive, they go at each other every day."

The Rams virtually cleaned house after last season. Ten players could have returned from that team, but after Cameron challenged them to get tougher only five decided to come back -- Blunt, Benitez, Stephen Francis, former Randolph-Clay star Brian Thornton and Demetrius Jones.

Blunt, Benitez and Francis will likely be joined in the starting lineup by former Dougherty star Andrew "Bob" Colvin and Georgia Southwestern transfer Michael Tippins. Colvin, who was voted a team captain along with Francis, said he and the new Rams players have brought a winning attitude with them.

"We got in, and from day one it has been clicking," said Colvin, who transferred from Waycross Community College, where he won the Region XVII title last year. "The record from last year was kind of horrible. They had talent to win more than they won, but they didn't have that leader to pick somebody up. Now we got that."

Blunt, a former Albany Tech star who transferred to ASU after two successful seasons as a Titan, said Colvin is right at the center of this turnaround, which started as soon as the Rams gave up that late lead in the closing seconds of last year's season-ending loss to Kentucky State.

"We told ourselves from that point on we would put in work in the gym and get better every day," Blunt said. "We have a whole new mentality."

The Rams don't just have a new mentality, they have a brand new style of basketball they will be playing. Thirteen of the 15 players on the roster are either guards or forwards who play on the wing, which means Cameron plans on pushing the tempo just like the Rams did earlier this month in a huge 68-64 win during an exhibition game against Division I Florida A&M.

The only two post players will be 6-foot-8 Tippins and the 6-7 Brian Thornton.

"We don't have much height, but heart makes up for height in my mind," Colvin said. "This year we have more guards than big men, so we have to get after them on the defensive end and force turnovers and get out to easy baskets."

Not only are the Rams small and quick, but they have a deep bench that will allow them to keep pressure up for entire games. Blunt and Benitez each averaged a team-high 11.3 points last season, but they combined to score just two points against FAMU. Senior Derein Chatman came off the bench against FAMU to lead the Rams with 15 points and 10 rebounds, while junior Justin Wilcox, another former Albany Tech Titan, added 12 points.

There are all kinds of players who can step up for the Rams this season, and expectations are sky-high at Albany State, where they wear their new-founded theme for this season, "No excuses," on the front of their practice jerseys.

"Our themes this year are, 'No excuses,' because we were making a lot of those last year," Cameron said. "The other theme is, 'Back in the game,' because we have a team that can put us back on top of the conference."