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Last Season's Success Raises the Bar for This Season's Eastern Florida Men's Basketball Team
Oct. 28, 2013 - Think of all the clichés pertaining to following a special season and they all apply to Eastern Florida State College's men's basketball team.
After all the Titans went 26-7 last season, captured their first Florida College System Activities Association Southern Conference title since 2001 and advanced to the championship game of the FCSAA state tournament where they lost 63-58 to eventual national champion College of Central Florida.
Now the 2013-2014 Titans face a similarly tough schedule and similarly high expectations with a mix of returnees who remember last season's accomplishments and what it took to achieve them and new players who not only want to continue the tradition but also establish their own identities.
So, enter the clichés: big shoes to fill, tall order, big mountain to climb. Head coach Jeremy Shulman, in his fourth season at Eastern Florida, has heard them all. He realizes what occurred last season is past and that what matters now is what happens this season. And that's in the hands of his current team.
The Titans open the season at 2 p.m. Saturday against the Webber International junior varsity in Babson Park, FL. They are ranked fifth in the first Florida College System Activities Association coaches poll this fall.
Shulman likes what he sees but at the same time acknowledges work remains.
"This year is a work in progress so far," Shulman said. "We've got all the talent to be my best team since I've been coaching college basketball for seven years. The chemistry is still developing. It's still in the early stages. I guess that's a good thing. We wouldn't want to peak right now in October. We're hoping to do that a little more in conference season."
To that end Shulman is looking to three players to set the tone: sophomore returnees 6-3 point guard and sharpshooter Ben Patrick of Clearwater, FL, Dunedin High and Impact Academy, 6-8 forward and three-point and rebounding standout Jure Gunjina from Zagreb, Croatia and 5-11 sophomore transfer, point guard and shooter Torrance Rowe from Atlanta, GA and Holmes Community College in Mississippi.
They will be pushed and supported by 6-7 sophomore forwards and returnees Julian Adams from Palm Bay, FL and Bayside High, and Mike Kirkland from Ocala, FL and West Port High.
Newcomers expected to play large roles are 5-8 freshman point guard Jermohn Queen from Stuart, FL and Martin County High, 6-3 freshman guard T.J. Cromer from Albany, GA and Westover High, 6-2 freshman guard Cam Scott from Raleigh, NC and Word of God Christian Academy, 6-6 freshman forward Landus Anderson from Tallahassee, FL and Florida High, 6-8 freshman forward Tyrek Coger from Raleigh, NC and Word of God Christian Academy and 6-2 freshman guard Demetrius McReynolds from Louisville, KY and Butler High.
The roster gives Eastern Florida more depth.
"Last year we had a really strong starting five," Patrick said. "This year we've got 10 guys who could potentially be in the starting five. So once things get started if we can build that chemistry we could have 10 guys out there who are dangerous night in, night out."
It will take being dangerous night in and night out and more for Eastern Florida to be successful given the strength of its schedule.
The Titans face two early-season matchups with Florida State College Jacksonville and two with State College of Florida. It faces state powers Chipola College and Santa Fe Community College on Dec. 14-15 and Gadsden State (Alabama) and national power East Mississippi Community College in the Tallahassee New Year's Tournament.
That's before the final 13-game stretch of 12 conference games and one against always dangerous Daytona State College.
"We can't control the conference schedule, to use a cliché it is what it is," Shulman said. "But we can control who we play before conference and I deliberately set out to play the best before facing the best which is what our conference is.
"There are no soft games, easy games or gimme games in our conference. Every loose ball, every rebound, every possession in every game is contested. And to be successful we must win every possession."
To that end Shulman issued shirts to his team with the mantra "Win Every Possession" in large letters across the back in case anyone is inclined to forget what's at stake.
Shulman's style in practices and games makes that a remote possibility. Constantly in motion and constantly encouraging and exhorting his players, Shulmam stresses details from precise cuts to precise passes and putting forth maximum effort. Anything less is not acceptable.
From dissecting hours of practice and game replays to plotting practice and game strategy Shulman immerses himself, his staff and players in pursuit of excellence.
Speaking of his staff Shulman brought in two new assistants in Greg Gage and former Brevard Community College, Johnson & Wales and Dominican Republic professional player Carlos Montilla. They join returning assistant and recruiting coordinator Chris Ronan. Last season's associate head coach Jim Grimes left Shulman's staff to take the reins of Eastern Florida's women's team.