Practice officially began on Sept. 29 for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Golden Lions basketball team.
Golden Lions Head Coach George Ivory is in his 10th year at the helm, and he's excited to get things rolling for another season.
Heading into the first practice, Ivory had a good idea of what he wants the team to cut back on and what they need to get better at.
The team went 7-25 overall last season and 6-12 in SWAC play.
"Right now we're looking pretty good to be two weeks in,” Ivory said. “The guys are working hard, and they're not complaining. We know the things that we're trying to cut back on; they're doing good in those areas."
The Golden Lions lost five guys from last year's team to graduation.
They return everyone else, plus a couple of guys who sat out. They welcome three junior college transfers and three freshmen. Four of the team’s top six scorers return, including last year's leading scorer, senior Trent Steen.
Steen is one of five seniors on the team, with the others being Kennedy McKinney, Joe'Randle Toliver, Travon Harper, and David Tillman.
The two players who sat out last year that Ivory expects to be contributors are Christopher Robinson from Jones Community College and Dwain Whitfield, a transfer from Mississippi Valley. Robinson is a guard, while Whitfield is an inside player.
Guards Marcus Wallace and Charles Jackson are a couple more upperclassmen who Ivory can rely on. Both guys played when they were freshmen, and they have experience playing in the Golden Lions’ back court. Along with Tolliver, McKinney, Wallace and Jackson, two other perimeter guys who return are Khalid Campbell and J'Breun Sprinkle.
With their physical body frames, Steen and Harper will be relied on in the front court. David Tillman has continued to make strides in the right direction, according to Ivory. Two guys who didn't get a lot of playing time as freshmen are Cedric Tuner and Artavious Mcdyess.
"We think that we have a couple guys who can really score down low," Ivory said.
"Trent Steen and Travon Harper will be big for us down low. David Tillman has looked good in these first part of practices."
With a good mixture of returning guys who can fill it up, and a solid group of freshmen that will push for playing time, Ivory is content with his guards and wings.
"Charles Jackson will be a big time scorer for us," Ivory said. "He came off the bench and really gave us a spark last season. Joe can really shoot the ball, Mckinney is a good athlete, and Wallace is set to have a healthy season. With the kids we have coming in we should do a lot better than we did last year."
Over the off season, the Golden Lions signed a three-man freshman class, and they brought in three JUCO transfers.
The transfers are Quamauri Hardy of Marion Military, Martaveous McKnight of Itawamba CC, and Chris Smith of Mid-South CC.
The two freshmen from Destiny High School out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, are Terrance Banyard and Cameon Posey.
Anthony Davis Jr. of Shaw High School from Shaw, Mississippi, is the third member of the freshmen class.
Ivory said he is happy to have each and every one of them, and getting them integrated has made the team better.
"The new guys have been good to get into the mix," Ivory said. "We look to take care and cherish the basketball this year, and the guys we brought in will help us accomplish that."
Taking care of the basketball was one of the weak spots for the Golden Lions last season. Ivory knows if they want to improve it's a must that they cut the 18-plus turnovers that they averaged last season down.
"Last season we averaged 18-19 turnovers a game, and that's not acceptable," Ivory said. "We're trying to score, but when you have that many turnovers it takes a lot away. We're doing a lot more with ball handling and making sure the right people get the ball."
The Golden Lions are conditioning, and getting in shape for the season day-in and day-out according to Ivory.
"I take my hat off to our young guys," Ivory said. "They were running and conditioning before we were even scheduled to start. I'm very pleased, we still have a long way to go, but their attitudes are good and they're ready to work."
The Golden Lions held their annual Midnight Madness last Friday.