Teri LaJeunesse ECU Sports Information
After a tough 2012-13 season where the East Central University men’s basketball team went 8-18 overall and 5-15 in the Great American Conference, a new head coach was announced. Ja Havens begins his tenure at the helm of the Tigers program and his first head coaching job. Havens spent the last eight seasons as an assistant coach at Drury University, which claimed the NCAA Division II national championship in 2012-13.
Havens will have a good mix of returners and newcomers for the 2013-14 season, with nine returners and seven newcomers. Of the nine returners, the Tigers will be bolstered by six seniors: Shaq Burrell, Colby Carr, Chris Fisher, Chris Lee, Miles Mitchell and Henry Pwono.
“We have a unique group this season, and I have been pleased with the overall effort from everybody,” said Havens. “You can tell the returners are hungry to be successful. There are six returning seniors, and I know it is important to them to have a great year.”
What Havens expects most out of his team are continued improvement, competition at a high level and the ability to represent the institution in a positive way.
“My goals are daily improvement,” said Havens. “I am very process oriented and into controlling what you can control. We want to bring great effort and a great attitude on a daily basis. Our focus will always be on doing what we can to be better each day. If we do that, I believe that we can reach the destination we collectively desire.”
So far, Havens’ expectations have been met by both the returners and newcomers. His seniors have become strong leaders, and the new teammates are working hard every day.
“I have been really pleased with the returning core of players and their desire to get better and have a better result this year,” said Havens.
With the good mix of players on the 2013-14 squad, the Tigers will have a lot of interchangeable parts. Being able to put different combinations for the system, the team will run.
Two of the key returners for ECU are guards Colby Carr and Chris Fisher. Carr was named to the All-GAC Honorable Mention Team in 2012-13 after averaging 13.1 points and 8.0 rebounds per game. Fisher was also strong for the Tigers, netting 9.4 points, 2.8 assists and 3.0 rebounds per game.
ECU will also return four other guards from a season ago. Seniors Shaq Burrell and Miles Mitchell both played in all 26 games for the Tigers and earned starting roles throughout the 2012-13 season. Sophomores Nick Anderson and Marquis Walters also return to the guard rotation.
The Tigers will also get added depth with the addition of junior Reed Johnson, freshman Darryn York and redshirt freshmen Donovan Halsel and A.J. Moutry.
ECU has also added two players who can play either as guards or forwards, adding options to the lineup with junior Brandon Lucas and redshirt freshman Aly Hudgins.
The post position was an area where the Tigers had some early struggles in 2012-13, but with the three returning players and the addition of a fourth, Havens is hoping to make strides on their inside game.
“We have some size and athleticism inside and are working on consistent effort from those players,” Havens said. “We are looking for those four to be players that we can count on from both ends of the floor.”
Senior Henry Pwono had a strong role in the post in 2012-13, averaging 5.3 points and 4.4 boards per game. Redshirt senior Chris Lee will also return to action after an injury that sidelined him four games into the season. Sophomore Braxton Reeves was a dual player last season as a forward. He averaged 4.5 points per game and took 84 of his 102 shot attempts from beyond the arc.
ECU will also be bolstered by the addition of sophomore Jefferson Ocoro, who has been playing for the Colombia national teams since 2011.
“Overall, I think we have good athleticism and guys that can make shots,” said Havens. “We are going to spend a lot of time on defense. If we want to be a good team, we will have to be able to stop opponents from scoring. Ultimately, at the end of the year, it comes down to your ability to get a stop when you need one. Our success will largely depend on our habits and our ability to execute defensively over the course of the season.”
The 2013-14 season will start out with a strong test for the Tigers at the Southwestern Classic in Weatherford. ECU will face strong competition from Lone Star Conference members Angelo State (Nov. 8) and Midwestern State (Nov. 9).
“We open with two very good teams, and that is a good thing,” Havens said. “I believe in playing a strong schedule. Our early schedule will provide a great opportunity to compete with high-caliber DII programs. Our ultimate goal for this program is to be nationally competitive, and we will have a chance early this season to get some feedback as to where we are as a team.”
The early test will allow the new team to learn what it still needs to work on heading into a stretch of three home games that includes the opening Great American Conference games of the season. The Tigers will first host Dallas Baptist (Nov. 16) and then welcome Ouachita Baptist (Nov. 21) and Henderson State (Nov. 23) for the first league games of the season.
Other non-conference games on the schedule include Tarleton State (Nov. 30), Rogers State (Dec. 14) and a home game against Southwestern Adventist (Dec. 20).
Despite having the normal challenges of getting a new team to work together, the NCAA has made some significant changes to the men’s rule book for the 2013-14 season. The rules are designed to clean up the game and put an emphasis on freedom of movement for offensive players, which could result in some changes to what fans have come to expect.
“We have heard all the rule changes, and I would expect some more fouls and free throws,” said Havens. “Free throws have always been important in games and will be even more so this season. Having depth may prove to be very important in dealing with an increased number of fouls called.”