PREVIEW: GSW men’s hoops open season with high hopes

GSW coach Mike Leeder

GSW coach Mike Leeder

AMERICUS --- Mike Leeder looked across the court Monday when his Georgia Southwestern Hurricanes scrimmaged Auburn and almost did a double take.

Division I Auburn and Division II GSW simply didn’t look that different.

“Watching us play the other day, there wasn’t a lot of difference as far as height goes,” said Leeder, whose Hurricanes led early but ended up losing, 66-50. “This is the biggest team we have ever had.”

The Hurricanes’ expectations for 2012-13 are pretty big, too.

“I think this is going to be the type of team that people aren’t going to look forward to playing,” Leeder said Thursday in advance of tonight’s 2012-13 season opener in Americus against Fort Valley State.

GSW, which was ravaged by injuries a season ago, began last year with an 11-3 record until its three Division I-transfer post players — Phillip Brown, Milos Kleut and Matt Shaw — all had season-ending injuries, and star guard Colin Slotter was dismissed from the team for disciplinary reasons.

The depleted Hurricanes limped into the offseason, losing 11 of their final 12 games and finishing with a disappointing 12-14 record after being picked in the preseason to finish first in the Peach Belt Conference.

GSW is picked to finish ninth in the conference this season — the same position it was predicted to finish in 2010-11 when the Hurricanes won their first PBC West Division title and also advanced to the Division II playoffs for the first time in school history.

Leeder sees plenty of similarities between the two teams.

“Two years ago when we were picked ninth, I knew we were going to be good,” Leeder said. “I have the same kind of feeling about this group.”

Aside from missing Brown (16.2 ppg) and Slotter (12.3 ppg), the Hurricanes also lost 2012 starters Evan Mobley (14.3 ppg) and Marlon Rivera (8.9 ppg) to graduation.

Leeder said this season’s starting lineup will be fluid at the beginning, but he does expect Duke transfer Austin Kelly — a two-sport star in high school who chose football over basketball, then switched back — to make a difference.

“I think he is a guy that has to score, but I think we are going to see a lot of guys put up some numbers,” Leeder said. “I don’t think we have a 17-18 points-per-game guy, but we have really unselfish players and could see a different leading scorer each game.”

The team’s height will also be a strength with 6-foot-10 Kleut, 6-10 Daryl Davis and 6-7 Shaw. Ian Andre, a 6-9 forward from Albany, will also be a contributor in the frontcourt once he is cleared to play after an offseason knee surgery. Newcomer Derrick Dawkins, a 5-10 junior from Brooklyn, N.Y., has also caught the attention of Leeder in the preseason — as well as the attention of Auburn coach Tony Barbee on Monday.

“He is good with the ball,” Barbee said, making it a point to mention Dawkins’ play several times in post-game interviews. “He could score.”

The Hurricanes open the season with four straight home games, including a Nov. 17 matchup against Albany State. GSW begins PBC play Dec. 11 on the road against Georgia College.