SPARTANBURG, S.C. – With the start of the USC Upstate men's basketball season just three weeks away, the squad closed out its first full week of preseason practice with a two-and-a-half hour session Friday afternoon inside the Hodge Center.
After a four-year transitional phase to Division I, the team is now eligible for post-season play including both Atlantic Sun Conference and NCAA Championships.
Upstate returns a trio of players that logged significant minutes last season, including reigning A-Sun Freshman of the Year, Torrey Craig (14.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg). Rejoining Craig are fellow sophomores Ricardo Glenn (5.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg) and Babatunde Olumuyiwa (6.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg).
In 2011-12, the Spartans will play a total of 13 contests inside the friendly confines of the Hodge Center. Tickets for the 2011-12 season are on sale now and can be purchased by calling (864) 503-5893.
• Last season, Babatunde Olumuyiwa led the A-Sun in blocks (71) and blocks per game (2.37).
• As a freshman, Torrey Craig ranked in the top-10 in the conference in five different statistical categories.
• At Virginia Tech (12/30/10), Shane Porchea scored a career-best seven points in the Spartans' upset-bid against the Hokies.
• Chalmers Rogers scored what proved to be the game-winning basket in a 60-59 victory over ETSU (12/5/10, Hodge Center).
• Carter Cook sank two free throws with 6.9 seconds remaining in double overtime against UNC Asheville (11/29/10) to lift Upstate to a thrilling 93-91 victory over the Bulldogs in the first game inside the newly renovated Hodge Center.
• Ricardo Glenn scored a career-high 16 points behind a career-best five field goals against Jacksonville (2/13/11).
Upstate Head Coach Eddie Payne
On the first week of practice:
A large part of what I have seen thus far is what I expected out of our team. Overall, we have more talent and our backcourt, despite being mostly freshmen, is also an improvement compared to previous seasons. We have the ingredients of toughness, so we have to continue to develop that. The kids have worked hard in practice and they have been very consistent in terms of effort. We have made a lot of mistakes, but I think if we continue to play hard we will improve as the year goes along.
On the team's biggest surprise thus far:
It's difficult for me to single out one specific player, because everyone has had their moments thus far. All of our players have proven that they will be able to contribute once the season begins, so to me, that is a really good thing. Ricardo Glenn had an exceptionally good practice today. Torrey Craig has shot the ball well from the perimeter and overall, I am pleased with the effort that all of our guys have given to this point.
On what the team must improve upon before the season-opener:
From an offensive perspective we cannot turn the ball over as much as we have been. Because we are trying to play pressure defense, that makes it difficult on the offense, but we still have to focus on eliminating turnovers. On the defensive end, we are going to have to improve upon our defensive rebounding in order to eliminate second-chance opportunities.
On starting senior season:
It is different being a senior because you have a lot guys on the team looking up to you. My first three years on the team I always looked up to different players on the team. Now that the guys that I looked up to are gone, I have to be someone that has to step into that role and be a leader.
On being eligible for post-season play:
It is a great feeling to finally have a chance to play in the post-season. It has changed the way we have prepared for the season, because it is our goal to still be playing beyond our final regular-season game.
On being able to play after sitting out 2010-11 due to NCAA transfer rules:
I am excited to actually have to opportunity to step out on the court this season after sitting out last season. It was hard for me to practice, knowing I had to sit on the bench during our games. I am focused on getting better, as we prepare for the upcoming season and I can't wait to start playing games
On the youth of the team:
Obviously, we are a young group as we have just four upperclassmen on our team this year. We have been working hard in practice and I feel that we are improving each and every day; so despite our youth, we will be ready when the season begins in a few weeks.
On differences between high school and collegiate practice:
My high school coach did a great job of getting us prepared, as he was a really intense individual. The biggest difference is the caliber of athletes; you constantly have to play harder and faster in order to be successful.
On finding niche as a freshman on the team:
You have to find your way through as a new player on a new team. All of us were the best players on our high school squads, but when you get to college, you have to discover the role that the coaches want you to play. It is important to do your best to accept that role so that you can earn the respect of your teammates.