FLORENCE, SC – Coming off its most successful season ever, the Francis Marion University men’s basketball team will open the 2004-05 campaign Monday evening (Nov. 15) at Coker College.
The match-up between the two local rivals will tip-off at 7 p.m. in Coker’s Timberlake-Lawton Gym. FMU leads the all-time series with Coker 36-10, including a 75-66 win in Florence last season.
Fifth-year FMU head coach John Schweitz welcomes back seven lettermen, but only one starter, from last year’s 27-4 squad that was ranked No. 5 in the final regular-season poll and reached the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Division II tournament, before losing to the eventual national champions. The Patriots captured the PBC’s North Division crown with a 15-1 mark and enter the new season with a 12-game home-court winning streak. Despite the loss of personnel, the squad was tabbed by Street & Smith’s College Basketball as a Division II team to watch in the upcoming season.
All-Conference and All-Region swingman Louis McCullough (17.7 ppg, 7.8 rpg), the half brother of NBA superstar Kevin Garnett and cousin of former UNC player and NBA guard Shammond Williams, is the lone returning Patriot starter. He returns after applying for the NBA draft last summer and then taking his name out of consideration prior to the actual draft. He is only the second Patriot to amass 1,000 points, 600 rebounds, 100 blocked shots, and 100 steals during a career. Named a 2004-05 first-team preseason All-American by Street & Smith’s College Basketball, McCullough has a shot to set new school career marks for both scoring and blocked shots.
“Louis excels in all aspects of the game,” said Schweitz. “His abilities impact the game on the offensive end, the defensive end, and on the rebounding glass at both ends. It is a pleasure to be able to write down his name in the scorebook every night. However, if an opposing team focuses all its attention on Louis, we have other scorers who can step up and deliver.”
The Patriots also return 6-2 guard Michael Jenkins (6.6 ppg), 6-2 forward Andrew Snipe (3.1 ppg), and 6-3 swingman George Walker (3.1 ppg), all of whom played key roles in last season’s run. Walker suffered an injury during the preseason and will likely miss the season opener. Schweitz hopes to regain his services in another week.
Other returnees include junior guard Artis Lee (1.2 ppg), senior 6-4 forward Michael Carter (0.2 ppg), and junior 6-4 forward Courtney Lilliston (0.6 ppg).
The squad’s newcomers include junior guard Sean Kennedy (Brunswick Community College), 6-6 sophomore forward Raymond Dorsey (Spartanburg Methodist College), 6-2 junior guard Vony Rivers (Erskine College), and redshirt freshman guard Larnelle Peterson (West Florence High School). Dorsey, a product of Wilson High School, has been a pleasant surprise to Schweitz. “Raymond has good hands, and can step out and shoot the three-pointer. His game is not flashy, but he gets things done.”
“Sean has the ability to create shots for himself and teammates, and will likely open the season in the starting lineup. Vony is a tough competitor – a scrapper who plays bigger than his 6-2 frame.” While at Erskine College, Rivers was the CVAC Freshman of the Year in 2002.
Schweitz went on to say, “We will be smaller this year, and that may change some of our defensive plans. We will likely mix up our defenses more than last season.” The Patriots led the PBC (for the second straight year) and ranked seventh nationally in team field goal percentage defense during 2004-05, allowing opponents only 39.2 percent.
“I love our quickness, and this squad’s ability to dive the ball into the paint, and also shoot the outside jumper. The effort and focus have both been there during the preseason. Consistency is the one aspect we must continue to work on.”
The team’s 14-win improvement over the previous season was tops in the Peach Belt, the second year in a row FMU earned that honor, following a nine-win improvement in 2002-03.
The Patriots’ 27-game schedule includes 11 home games and the always-tough 16-game PBC slate. The squad’s only home games before the New Year are Nov. 19-20 when FMU hosts the Patriot Tip-Off Classic at the Florence Civic Center. The men’s and women’s tournament will consist of four games each day.