SPARTANBURG, S.C. – With the start of men's basketball season set to tip-off Friday night at Arkansas, USC Upstate men's basketball head coach Eddie Payne sits down with UpstateSpartans.com to talk about the upcoming season and his expectations for the 2011-12 season.
This is Upstate's first year of full eligibility at the Division-I level. With the Spartans eligible for postseason play, have you noticed any differences in the effort the team has given during practice?
I think our effort has been really good so far, but I don't know that I would attribute that to the opportunity to compete in the postseason. I believe that our depth and competition to our playing time has had the biggest impact on our effort. I also know that our players are aware of the chance to play beyond the regular season, so that can't hurt us as it serves as another positive.
Of the six newcomers for 2011-12, five are guards, what are your expectations of the backcourt?
We are taller and stronger physically and despite being freshmen, we are more talented overall. We have a young backcourt, so I think if you put all that in a bag and shake it up, we have a young and talented group and that is a good thing. They are going to get to play and learn with their training wheels on and hopefully their learning curve will be accelerated because of the opportunity to play from day one.
Our frontcourt consists mainly of sophomores with junior Rob Elam and senior Chalmers Rogers being the only upper classmen. Everyone will play and make contributions for us this season. Babatunde is more physical and both he and Ricardo have improved their bodies during the off-season. Jodd Maxey is an athletic player and will give us added athleticism on the front lines. So all things considered, we have a chance to have a better frontcourt as our players have improved and we have added depth.
The squad boasts just four upperclassmen, what do you see as the main concern for the 2011-12 squad?
The obvious weakness of this squad is that most of our players are young. We have four first-year players; they are all capable of making plays, but they also tend to make more mistakes than an experienced player would make. All of these things are normal and they are all part of the process. These players will have the chance to play and while they will make mistakes, they will learn from those miscues as they become better players. When they make mistakes, they will come out of the game, but they won't be on the bench long as we will get them back in there because we are committed to playing them. The same rule applies to the sophomores, they are more experienced, but like our new players, they are going to make mistakes. When you look at championship-caliber teams, they have talent and experience. We have the talent, just don't have the same experience. We are going to focus on making sure our players get that experience and as you give young players the opportunity to play, you are going to experience growing pains.
The 2011-12 slate isn't as daunting as previous seasons, how do you feel that will benefit the team in conference play and a potential berth in the A-Sun tournament?
We have nearly the same amount of home non-conference contests this season as we have in the previous four seasons of Division I play. That is a good thing as it gives us the opportunity to compete in front of the home crowd and hopefully we win a few more games. It is important that we have that because you can't build a program by losing. You have to improve your talent and your recruiting, but you also have to improve your schedule so you can give yourself a realistic chance to win some games and I feel we have improved that segment of our program this season.
What goals have you set for this year's squad?
The main goal is for our players to give 100 percent of their effort, or as close to it as they possibly can when they are on the court. We anticipate playing 10 or 11 players each and every game. We have a lot of kids that will be on the floor and we want to maintain as high of a level of intensity as possible. We are not going to say we want to win this many games or that many games. We just want to focus on the process and effort and let the results take care of themselves.