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LOCAL COLLEGE HOOPS NOTEBOOK: Rams 'excited' for start of conference season

Albany State opens SIAC schedule vs. Kentucky State

Albany State senior and Sylvester native Jamorris Gaines is averaging a team-high 16 points per game this season and will be key for the Rams as they start SIAC play Thursday at home against Kentucky State. (Reginald Christian/Special to The Herald)

Albany State senior and Sylvester native Jamorris Gaines is averaging a team-high 16 points per game this season and will be key for the Rams as they start SIAC play Thursday at home against Kentucky State. (Reginald Christian/Special to The Herald)

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Chris Cameron

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Robert Skinner

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Artisha Holston

ALBANY — The Albany State men’s basketball team returns to campus today after a two-week holiday break.

And Rams coach Chris Cameron is hoping his team comes back with the same focus and determination it left with 14 days ago.

The Rams wrapped up first-semester practices a couple of weeks ago before Cameron sent his players home for the holidays, and the eight-year coach believes his players were peaking just as they left campus for the break.

“We had three or four practices after final exams, and those practices were good,” said Cameron, whose Rams lost their final game before break to St. Leo, 96-62, on Dec. 7. “I saw focus and concentration in the guys during those practices, and we are hoping they come back the same way.”

ASU (3-5) resumes practice today and will begin the second half of the season Thursday at home in its SIAC opener against Kentucky State. The Thorobreds (1-4) are on a four-game losing streak but have won six of their last seven games against ASU dating back to 2010.

“I’m excited. We start off (the conference schedule) with three tough games against the West Division,” said Cameron, whose Rams travel to Tuskegee and Stillman after hosting Kentucky State. “Those were the top three teams in the West (in the preseason predictions), so I’m excited and ready to see how our guys are going to step up to the challenge.”

The Rams could easily be 6-2 entering the conference season with three losses in the first month of the season by three or fewer points, so ASU isn’t letting its sub-.500 record stand in the way of some big goals the rest of the season.

“Statistically we have been doing well,” Cameron said. “That’s something big we are trying to incorporate this year is looking at the stats. We want to win the stats: the 50-50 balls, the rebounds, the turnovers. We have done a good job of doing that.”

Seniors Joe Williams and Jamorris Gaines and junior Larry Bullock are leading the way statistically for the Rams, averaging of more than 44 points per game as a trio. Gaines, a former Worth County standout, averages a team-high 16 points and 6.3 rebounds, while Bullock (15.1 ppg) and Williams (13.1 ppg) also average in double figures.

“We have other guys who can put the ball in the bucket, but those are the three most consistent scorers,” Cameron said. “We will continue to count on those guys to produce for us, and we will tweak what we are doing to make sure they are in the position to continue to score for us.”

LADY RAMS HOPING TO STAY HOT: The ASU women also open conference play Thursday at home against Kentucky State, and the Lady Rams are looking to stay hot after winning four of their last five games before the Christmas break.

At 5-2, the Lady Rams have the best non-conference record in the SIAC as they try to make a run at their first conference title since 1998.

But coach Robert Skinner knows snapping that slump will be tough.

“You have to come to play every night,” he said. “The conference is usually pretty tough. I have looked at several rosters and schedules, and I am seeing some of the conference teams scoring in the high 70s and low 80s on a consistent basis. And I have seen some of those teams playing good defense and holding opponents in the 50s. Those are just some indications (that the conference will be competitive).”

During the first two months of the season, 6-foot-1 post Artisha Holston led ASU with 15.6 points per game, and Skinner says he will continue to run the offense through the freshman from Taylor County High School.

“With the type of offense we run, she should be leading us in scoring,” Skinner said. “We run our offense through her. We try to go inside-out, and she is our main post player.”

Also averaging in double figures for the Lady Rams are Cordele native Keidra Green (13.9 ppg) and Kourtney Alexander (13 ppg).

It was balanced scoring that helped the Lady Rams get off to their best start in more than five years.

“I really believe we were being patient and allowing things to happen and not getting into a hurry,” Skinner said. “We weren’t rushing ourselves, were utilizing our skills and taking what the defense was giving us.

“You hated to see the (Christmas) break come.”

COMMUNITY GAME: For the first time in four years the ASU basketball teams will start charging admission for their home games.

The only exception will be Thursday against Kentucky State in a doubleheader that the school is dubbing a “Community and Friends Game.”

Admission will be free for the 5:30 p.m. women’s game and the 7:30 p.m. men’s game as the ASU squads look to open up their SIAC schedules with victories. Admission for the remaining home games — excluding the Feb. 22 game against rival Fort Valley State — will be $5.