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PREVIEW: Laden with local talent, ASU men begin anew today

Former Thomasville star Trey Gosier came to Albany State in hopes of being part of the team that turned the program around. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

Former Thomasville star Trey Gosier came to Albany State in hopes of being part of the team that turned the program around. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

Want To Go?

WHO: Albany State men (0-0) at Georgia Southwestern State (1-1).

WHAT: Season opener for the Rams.

WHEN: 7 p.m. today.

WHERE: Americus.

ALBANY — Trey Gosier grew up in Thomasville hearing all about Albany State’s glory days on the basketball court.

Now a freshman for the Rams, Gosier remembers listening to the decades-old stories about the Jones brothers — six basketball stars who defined the ASU program in the 1960s and ‘70s — and tucked them away for the better part of two decades, never thinking much about the legends.

Then he slipped on an Albany State jersey, and everything changed.

“That was one of my main goals, to come in and get Albany back to where it used to be as a winning program,” Gosier said before Wednesday practice as he looked over his shoulder and glanced at a banner with the retired No. 14 jersey of Major Jones. “We see that we can accomplish something big, something that hasn’t been done in a long time.”

Rams coach Chris Cameron sees it too.

Albany State, which opens its season today in Americus against neighboring rival Georgia Southwestern (1-1), might not have any players like Major Jones — who graduated from ASU in ’76 and enjoyed a six-year NBA career — but Cameron sees plenty of similarities between this year’s team and the 2007 squad that won a conference championship.

The Rams haven’t won a conference title since ’07 and have had six consecutive losing seasons under Cameron, but the seventh-year coach thinks this is a group that can raise a few banners in ASU’s gym.

“We feel like we have the team this year to get it done,” Cameron said. “We feel like we brought in the right personnel and the right pieces to the puzzle to get it done. With our guard play and our post play, this team resembles the 2007 team that won the conference championship.”

The Rams were 12-14 last season, but this year’s team is made up almost entirely of new faces, including Gosier, who averaged 14 points and 10 assists per game as a senior at Thomasville High School and will likely begin the season as ASU’s starting point guard.

“Gosier is really, really competitive and wants to be successful. He works hard in trying to accomplish his goals, and that’s pretty much the entire team. Everybody wants to win,” Cameron said. “That’s the mindset, and that’s why we signed the ones we signed. These guys had a genuine interest in wanting to come to Albany State.”

Only four players — Albany native Andrew Covin, former Worth County star Josh Alford, Justin Wilcox and Jaren Harris — return from last year’s team, and Wilcox and Harris will miss the first half of the season because of what Cameron called “personal reasons.”

Harris led the team in scoring with 12.6 points per game, while Wilcox added 9.7. With the two guards not in the starting lineup until January, that leaves Covin (4.0 ppg) and Alford (5.5 ppg) with bigger roles to play.

First-year Rams Gosier, Bainbridge grad James Lodman, Jr., 6-foot-7 junior and former Worth County star Jerome Hamilton — who transferred from Division I Wichita State — 6-7 sophomore Curtis Fluker (Waycross), sophomore Justin Udi (Hawkinsville) and junior Antione Brown (Vidalia) will get plenty of playing time this season.

Cameron said post players Hamilton and Fluker could rotate in and out of the starting lineup. Hamilton signed with the Shockers out of high school but left the program after two years to play for Connors State Junior College (Okla.) for one season, where he averaged 7.6 points and 4.9 rebounds per game.

Now he’s at ASU to form a formidable 1-2 punch in the frontcourt with Fluker, who averaged 5.7 points and 4.2 rebounds last season at Division III Fredonia (N.Y.).

Gosier expects himself and his fellow newcomers to make the most of their opportunities.

“With the team we have now, I think we can win conference,” he said. “They used to tell me all about Albany State and the Jones brothers. They used to tell me about them all the time and how they were the main team to beat. That’s where we are trying to get the Albany State program back to.”

The Rams were on the cusp of finishing with a winning record last season, and the easily could have if they had been able to close out games. Of their 14 losses, 11 were by 10 or fewer points and five were by three or fewer points.

Cameron said staying tough down the stretch has been a major focus in the offseason.

“That’s one of our biggest things. We have to do a better job at that. We have hit the weight room a lot harder,” Cameron said. “It was a toughness thing last year. We have tried to push it to the limit this preseason, so when the season gets here we can transfer that over into the games. That’s going to have a big difference on our ability to finish.”

Covin said it starts with himself and the other returners to keep composure in the closing minutes of games.

“We were there (last year), but we just didn’t have the edge to finish the game,” said Covin, a former Dougherty star. “This year we focused on finishing and not just playing 30 minutes but playing the whole 40. We need the whole 40 to win.”

The Rams are on the road for their first four games of the season, including a trip to Pensacola, Fla., to play nationally ranked No. 3 Alabama-Huntsville. ASU’s home opener is Nov. 29 against Voorhees College, and conference play begins Jan. 3 on the road against Kentucky State.

It’s a season that Cameron hopes will recapture the winning tradition at ASU — a tradition that players like Gosier have only heard stories about.

“We talk about what it takes to put a banner on the wall and how you want to leave your mark,” Cameron said. “And a lot of the guys have really bought into it.”