|Blue Bears learn to live with hype in CIAA|
|Livingstone eager to challenge for South title|
|Published Wednesday, October 16, 2013 8:15 pm|
Livingstone basketball is in an unfamiliar – but satisfying – spot.
The Blue Bears, picked to finish second in the South Division by the league’s coaches behind Winston-Salem State, are also ranked 18th in the preseason Division poll. The program won a school-best 22 games last season and advanced to the NCAA Division II tournament for the first time. This year, they’re adjusting to the expectations of an elite CIAA program.
“The expectations are there. We can’t avoid them,” Blue Bears coach James Stinson said at CIAA media day earlier this month. “They are going to be there and with us returning 10 players to be at the top of our game.”
Winston-Salem State, which went 21-6 last year, return preseason all-CIAA forwards Tyree Desmore and Preston Ross to a team that went 12-1 on its home floor but was swept by Livingstone, which won the South for the first time.
“I think we can compete with everybody in our division,” Stinson said. “It’s just that we have to afford ourselves to get some easy basket opportunities and get into the flow of a game.”
The Blue Bears lost four starters, but have enough returning talent to compete in the CIAA. Mark Thomas and Jody Hill were named to the preseason all-conference team. Thomas, who made all-CIAA last season, averaged 18.6 points per game with a career-high 34 points against Bowie State. Hill averaged 14 points a game last year.
“It’s a new experience for us, but the guys understand we have one common goal – to get to a national tournament and give ourselves an opportunity to play at a higher level,” Stinson said. “We lost a lot of leadership, so the leadership will be the key with our returners. If they can provide us with the leadership the Tyler Johnsons and Omar Ford-Bey did this past year, we’ll be very competitive.”
Forward Anthony Welch moves from the bench to a starting role after averaging 6.1 points per outing last season. Senior guard Mike Okam and sophomore forward Cornelius Johnson, both of whom missed last year, return to the fold.
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