BARBOURVILLE, Ky. --
The Union College men's basketball team opens its 2011-12 season on Saturday, and the Bulldogs are looking to repeat history.
Last year, the squad etched their names into the Union College record books when they went on a run in the AAC tournament, capturing the tournament crown, their first in almost four decades. The win also sent Union to the NAIA National Tournament for the first time in 42 years.
That, however, was last year, and now the 2011-12 edition of the Union College Bulldogs, led by third year head coach Sean Gillespie
, look to defend their conference title with a group of returning starters leading the way. A group of feisty newcomers will look to contribute from the opening tip of the season, as well.
"This is my third year and its our first preseason that can't be defined by the word transition," said Gillespie. "This being our third year we have a lot of returners, 14 in fact, that has made our preseason much more stable. I am excited to see where this group goes."
The Bulldogs return four of the five starters from last year's team in seniors Brent Cork
(Saginaw, Mich.) and Ian Davis
(Cherry Hill, N.J.), junior Ryan Young
(Waynesburg, Ky.), and sophomore Cody Miller
The lone departed starter is a key loss, however, as the Bulldogs lose 2011 NAIA Division II All-American Turrell Morris, who transferred to Rio Grande in the off season.
The leading scorer in the group of returning starters in Davis, who averaged 11.3 points per game, and was second on the squad in rebounding average (5.9 a game), blocks (59), and steals (33). Young, who will start at point guard, led the team a season ago in assists, dishing out 72 on the year.
Cork, who was inserted into the lineup in the second half of last season, contributed immediately, ending the year averaging 8.9 points per game, and earning All-AAC third team honors. Miller, meanwhile, averaged 8.5 points per game, and was named to the All-AAC Freshman team.
Other returnees include redshirt senior center Josh Hurd
(Independence, Ky.), who returns to the Bulldog lineup after sitting out last season with an injury, junior guard James Strange
(Pineville, Ky.), sophomore guard Stuart Stamper
(Hindman, Ky.) - who had a team-high 23 points in Union's lone game at the NAIA National Tournament last season - and junior Kevin Williamson
(Barbourville, Ky.), who will add needed depth inside for the Bulldogs.
Union welcomes 10 newcomers into the program this season, some of which have previous experience in the college game, as they've transferred into UC.
Transfers include Arthur Deciro
(Palm Bay, Fla.) and Carlos Sanford
(Durham, N.C.), both from Lincoln Memorial, and Stefan Juzbasic
(Belgrade, Serbia) from Lindsey Wilson. Sanford will likely fight for playing time at point guard, along with redshirt freshman Mickey Lewis
Several true freshman will also look to contribute for the Bulldogs, including local product Tyler Wagner
(Corbin, Ky.), who prepped at Lynn Camp High School. Wagner will look for playing time at forward this season.
A challenging slate of out-of-conference games, not to mention an always competitive AAC schedule awaits the Bulldogs this season.
Things get underway on Saturday when Union travels to defending NAIA Division-I National Champion Pikeville in an exhibition tilt, followed by a trip to Lindsey Wilson on Nov. 1 in the team's first regular season game. The Bulldogs then play in the Knights Fall Classic at Southern Virginia University on Nov. 4-5, before going to Indiana Wesleyan on Nov. 9. IWU starts the season ranked second in the NAIA Division II Preseason top 25.
Union opens their home slate on Nov. 11th with the 2011 Bulldog Classic, where they will take on Asbury, and Tennessee Temple in the two-day Classic held at Robsion Arena. This opens a busy home schedule for Union in the first month of the season, as they will play six games on campus in November and early December.
The rest of UC's non-conference schedule features exhibition games at two NCAA Division II powers in Lincoln Memorial and Kentucky Wesleyan, along with road tests at Warner and Webber International in December. The final non-conference contests of the season will see the Bulldogs travel all the way to Missouri for the McDonald's CAM JAM Classic, held at the College of the Ozarks Jan. 2-3. There, Union will play national powers Bellevue, and the host Bobcats.
AAC play opens on Nov. 27th with a home match-up against Reinhardt, a team Union beat in the 2011 AAC Tournament title game, 68-67 a season ago. Union comes into the year rated third in the conference's preseason poll, as Milligan and Reinhardt share the top spot.
To view the 2011-12 Union men's basketball schedule, click here
Overall, Union comes into the year hungrier than ever to defend their conference crown, as last year's taste of conference glory isn't enough to satisfy the pallet of this Bulldog group.
"They weren't satisfied with just winning conference championship and going to National Tournament [last season]," said Gillespie. "Now they want to repeat and make a run there. We have a lot of work to do to get to that point where its even a discussion point, but I like where we're at now.
"Our goal is to improve a bit each day, let the days stack up, and see where we are in late February. This thing is a marathon, not a sprint. It should be a fun ride, though."