CHICKASHA – It may seem like the same story as last year, with only a few returning players and a court full of new Drovers, but Coach Brisco McPherson said the new collection of young men have a lot of potential.

“I expect it to the better than we were last year … We have more guys that actually played in the league last year,” he said. “I’m not sure how much better, but we’ll be better.”

With only one returning starter and three other 2009-10 Drovers, McPherson has almost a brand new team on his hands. He’s brought in players just fresh out of high school and older upperclassmen to help round out the team.

“From Day 1, they got along. It’s a tight knit group. They get along with each other one and off the floor,” McPherson said. “That’s a good sign, when you have players that get along.”

Returning for their senior years are Thomas Peters and Aaron Daniels, both of whom played more than 500 minutes last season.

The return of Peters will be a huge asset to the team. He had 351 points during the season and was the team’s second highest scorer. Additionally, he had the team’s best free throw percentage and scored the most 3-pointers by far.

Also returning are Graham Faulkner and Phillip Harris. Both Harris and Daniels averaged 5.8 points per game in 2009-10.

While all the new players came in with productive stats, it’s hard for the coaches to know how they’ll play at the NAIA — and the Sooner Athletic Conference — level.

The SAC is usually one of the toughest conferences in the division, and USAO will have to compete against the returning National Champions: Oklahoma Baptist.

McPherson said explaining how tough the conference can be and actually competing are two different things.

“We talk about it. Aaron Daniels and Thomas Peters have mentioned how tough the conference is,” he said. “But until they actually experience it for themselves … I think that’s the best teacher.”

One of USAO’s struggles last year, McPherson said, was staying mentally tough when games weren’t going the Drovers’ way.

“I’m just interested to see how well we compete. For me, I want to see what’s going to happen,” he said. “I want to see what happens when we get behind, are we going to continue to compete?”

Assistant Coach Vinson Metcalf said they don’t sit down and set up goals for the season, but he and McPherson are counting on the upperclassmen to help lead the younger players.

“Here again, we’ve got a lot of new guys and were hoping those guys come together as quickly as possible to put some wins together,” Metcalf said. “They’re coming along just fine.”

Like Metcalf, McPherson said he’s confident in his players and their success in the future.

“It will be a challenge for them, but I really do think they’re up for it. I like the make up of this team,” he said. “They have a chance in the future, to be successful if we keep them together.”

The men begin regular season play at the Saint Gregory's Classic this weekend. Their first home game, Nov. 9 against Langston, will be Armed Forces Night at the USAO Fieldhouse. Armed Forces members and their families get in free with a military ID. Tip off is 7 p.m.

Published: Nov. 1, 2010