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PREVIEW: Rams hoping for big year with revamped roster

Albany State opens the season Saturday in New Orleans

Albany State senior and Sylvester native Jamorris Gaines will be one of the Rams’ key scoring threats this season as the team looks to bounce back from last year’s 9-18 record. (Reuters)

Albany State senior and Sylvester native Jamorris Gaines will be one of the Rams’ key scoring threats this season as the team looks to bounce back from last year’s 9-18 record. (Reuters)

ALBANY — The season that Albany State men’s basketball coach Chris Cameron has been waiting on is finally here.

After five straight seasons below .500, the Rams think they have the talent and chemistry to finally break through and not only deliver the program its first winning record since 2007-08, but to turn some heads along the way.

“We have the team that we have been trying to build,” Cameron said. “We have guys on the team this year that we have always tried to go after that fits our personality. Pretty much everybody on that team fits right into that mode.”

They’ve been waiting for a breakout season for years at Albany State, where the team is 29-55 over the past three seasons and has been unable to break away from the middle of the SIAC standings.

2013, they say, is going to be the start of something better.

“We feel really good about this year. We feel like we are going to do some big things for Albany State,” ASU senior and Sylvester native Jamorris Gaines said. “It would be nothing but a blessing to do something like that. All of us feel the same way. All of us feel like we are going to come out and play hard every night.”

Gaines, a transfer from Lee (Tenn.) University and former Albany Tech star, is back home in Southwest Georgia and one of the biggest reasons there is so much excitement surrounding the 2013-14 season. The Worth County product averaged 19 points a game in his sophomore year at Albany Tech and 14 points per game last season at NAIA Lee but ultimately made the decision to finish his career back home.

And Cameron couldn’t be happier.

“He is a big-time player, and he has created that reputation for himself,” Cameron said of Gaines, who was a third-team NAIA All-American last season.

Gaines, however, will have to share some of his spotlight with Division I transfer Joe Williams, a 6-foot-7 forward who played at Charleston Southern University last year.

The duo could fill a big scoring void on an ASU team that lost leading scorers Jaren Harris and Justin Wilcox to graduation and only has one returning starter (Bainbridge native James Lodman, Jr.).

“I just feel like this is the year for us to do better. We have better players, so I feel like we can do better this year. The guys feel the same way,” Cameron said. “A lot of these guys came here because they wanted to build the program up. Gaines wanted to come back home and play in front of his family and build the program up. Williams wanted to come here and do what he’s capable of doing.

“We are trying to change the culture. We have the talent. We have guys who are used to winning and want to win. And everybody on the team likes each other. It’s about the team with these guys.”

The Rams were 2-0 in exhibition games against Darton’s club team and the SOWEGA All-Stars and will open the regular season Saturday in New Orleans against Xavier University of Louisiana.

Along with Gaines, Williams and Lodman, projected starters are forward Earl Farnum and guard Darshtyn Baker.

“I’m glad we are coming out with a good opponent like that so we can see where we are at,” Gaines said about Saturday’s game. “We are feeling really good about Saturday and feel like we can come back with a win.”

ASU LADY RAMS

The Albany State women’s basketball team is adjusting to life without April Thomas for the first time in three years, but even without one of the top Division II scorers in the nation, Lady Rams coach Robert Skinner thinks his team will be just fine this season.

Thomas, a former Bainbridge star who finished fifth in the country in scoring last year as a sophomore with 20.2 points per game, transferred to rival Valdosta State during the summer in a move that caught even Skinner off guard.

But as the Lady Rams open the season today against Florida Institute of Technology, a fresh approach hasn’t turned out to be such a bad thing for the team.

“The last two years we moved everything and formulated everything around April, and we didn’t have the post to play with other teams inside,” Skinner said. “So we pretty much relied on our outside game. Now it’s going to be a little different.”

Now the Lady Rams have more depth and more options.

The depth starts in the paint with four post players who will anchor the offense, including returning starter and former Mitchell County star Kedeemya Cooper, who is joined in the frontcourt by Nicole Wilson, Artisha Holston and Sierra Foster.

“We are going to try to operate from the inside-out rather than the outside-in,” Skinner said.

Guards Mecca Frost, Deborah Hoe, Cordele native Keidra Green and former Darton player Amber McKenzie will play key roles in the backcourt, but nobody will be more vital to the Lady Rams’ success than senior guard Kourtney Alexander, who started alongside Thomas the last two years and will step into more of the starring role this season.

“Kourtney is pivotal to what we do offensively,” Skinner said. “She is a big part of our offense. I did not gear our offense around her like I did with April, but Kourtney can shoot the ball extremely well. She isn’t as durable as April, but she is learning how to get to the basket. She will probably be the one we look for down the floor most of the time.”