Late last season, coach Duggar Baucom's Citadel basketball team found a formula that seemed to work. The Bulldogs snapped a 11-game skid to win three of their final four games, including a victory over Western Carolina in the Southern Conference tournament.
Now in his third season at The Citadel, Baucom is hoping to put that formula to work for an entire season.
"We need consistency from the beginning of the game to the end, and from game to game," said Baucom, whose team started practice last week. "So many times we'd get down by 25 or 30 and cut it to three or something like that. We've got to be more consistent through the game and from game to game, and we did that toward the end of the year."
Baucom returns no seniors from that 12-21 team, but plenty of veterans. Juniors Zane Najdawi, Quayson Williams and Matt Frierson all played key roles, as did sophomores Preston Parks, Frankie Johnson, Leandro Allende, Kaelon Harris and Tyler Burgess. They are joined by six promising freshmen.
Parks, a 6-1 guard, was the SoCon freshman of the year after averaging 18.1 points per game and 22.1 points in league play. Baucom hopes he doesn't have to carry as much of the scoring load this season.
"Preston had an awesome freshman year, and now we've been able to bring in some help," Baucom said. "All the scoring responsibility won't fall on his hands, I hope. I think he'll be able to create for others, and that's our whole emphasis with our entire team: Create for others and trust each other."
Parks has put on eight to 10 pounds of muscle to better "last through the grind," Baucom said.
Najdawi, a 6-7 junior, should likewise have some help inside, where he averaged 15 points and 6.7 rebounds.
"Zane shot 43 percent from 3-point range last year, and I hope he gets to shoot more of them this year," Baucom said. "We still need him to battle on the boards, but we hope some of our freshmen can help him in there, too."
Harris, 6-4 and 225 pounds, made the SoCon all-freshman team despite playing only 21 games after suffering a fractured foot.
"He's been a bright spot," Bacuom said. "We didn't realize how much we missed him until we got him back on the court. He's our most improved, and has really worked hard on his jump shot, his decision-making and ball-handling. He's been fantastic in preseason."
Guards Williams and Frierson shot 36.2 and 35.9 percent, respectively, from 3-point range in Baucom's fast-paced, 3-point heavy system. Williams made just 22.4 percent in SoCon play, however.
"Quayson ended up shooting a decent percentage, but that's because he shot such a high percentage early on," Baucom said. "He knows with these freshmen coming in, he's got to be more consistent. Matt has been one of our biggest surprises; he's worked really hard on not just being a spot-up shooter, but putting the ball on the floor and creating for others. He made massive gains in the weight room, too."
Point guard Johnson, just 5-9, started 31 of 33 games last year, but shot just 27.6 percent from 3-point range.
"Bringing in (freshman) Tariq Simmons has really pushed him," Baucom said. "Frankie's a warrior and competes every day, and his 3-point shot has been much more consistent."
Allende, at 6-6, could make a huge difference with his all-court game if he hits his stride.
"He played over the summer for his national team in Puerto Rico," Baucom said. "He's so versatile, and the guys really gravitate to him. He's got a knack for making people better."
The freshmen also are a versatile bunch. Simmons is a 6-0 point guard who can play off the ball, and 6-8 Rob Johnson, 6-6 Kaiden Rice, 6-5 Alex Reed, 6-5 Derrick Webster and 6-6 Hayden Brown can play a variety of positions.
"We brought in a bunch of winners in this freshman class, a lot of guys who are used to winning," Baucom said. "When you have those kind of kids, it helps everyone else, too."
The Bulldogs play an exhibition against Coker on Nov. 3.