After just falling short of being the Sun Belt regular season champions, the Georgia Southern men’s basketball team is already putting in the work to prepare for next season and achieve their goals.
The Eagles found much success in their 2018-19 season, finishing 21-12 overall and 12-6 in the conference. GS also saw two players receive All-Sun Belt honors last season, those being former senior guard Tookie Brown and rising redshirt-junior guard Quan Jackson.
Brown is not an unfamiliar name to anyone who follows Eagle basketball as the former guard broke school records when it came to total collegiate points scored and assists as well as collecting many honors such as being named Men’s Basketball Sun Belt Player of the Year, All-American Honorable Mention and Georgia College Men’s Player of the Year.
With the immense impact this senior made, the biggest question on the minds of Eagle Nation is how is this team going to handle themselves without Tookie?
The answer to that question is with ease. While losing an important player in Brown as well as former senior forward Montae Glenn, will hurt the Eagles, GS still has a strong roster heading into next season.
GS can look to players like rising senior forward Isaiah Crawley and rising senior guard David-Lee Jones Jr. to assume leadership positions on the team as they showed an impressive performance last season.
“Well a lot of it is going to go on our senior class,” Head Coach Mark Byington said in regards to leadership roles being filled in next season. “With Isaiah Crawley, he had a terrific year this year. David-Lee Jones, it’s going to be his third year being here. I think those two in particular, but I’m also excited to kind of see how high Quan Jackson can play. He was all conference this year, I think a lot of it is going to be on him.”
Jackson was a huge contributor on the court for the Eagles, as he averaged 32 minutes of play per game as well as showing for 14.8 points per game, logging 458 points overall. The rising redshirt-junior guard made many show-stopping plays, including his last-second buzzer beater which scored GS their second win of conference play on the season, as well as helping Byington secure his 100th win as GS’s head coach.
Jackson has his sights set on on a successful season and hopes to make All Sun-Belt again.
“Team goal would be to have a successful season, win a championship, come first in the Sun Belt, things like that,” Jackson said. “Personal goal is just getting better every day, making All-Sun Belt again, and just helping anybody that needs help that I can help out.”
Jackson’s personal goal of getting better mostly concerns his shooting game, with an focus on floaters.
“Tookie worked on floaters all summer and his floater game was pretty good,” Jackson said. “Hopefully that’ll be a big difference in my game and will lead me to the next level.”
Another player to be excited to see on the court next season is rising sophomore guard Calvin Wishart, who worked his way up to being a regular starter by the end of the season.
“You get one year under your belt, that’s one more year of experience,” Wishart said. “I got my foot pretty deep in the water. I mean, I played 18 minutes a game so that was a good taste of college basketball and I’ll definitely be prepared for next year.”
Wishart hopes to work towards a team goal of making it to the NCAA tournament, as well as improving his personal game.
“Individually, I just want to just get better,” Wishart said. “It sounds so broad and so generic but you just have to get better. There’s no individual stat that you want to get, it’s just keep working every day, become the best player you can over the summer, and then translate it to the court- get better.”
To get better, the rising sophomore plans to work on his athleticism- focusing on improving his quickness laterally on the defense. The guard is also looking to work on his mental game, trying to improve his decision making skills on the court as well as recognizing plays he needs to make in the moment.
Byington and the rest of the team are also eager to see players who weren’t eligible for play last season have the opportunity to be an impact next season- those being redshirt-freshmen guard/forward David Viti and guard Will Dillard.
“Will Dillard and David Viti, both redshirted this past year, and both are very talented,” Byington said concerning the two. “I’m excited to see how good they can get for next year. There’s an opportunity for them to play, and what kind of role they can have is going to be up to them, but they’re both very very talented.”
Eagle Nation can also expect to see an impact on the court within returning senior guard Ike Smith, who applied for a medical hardship waiver after being injured early on in what was supposed to be his final season as an Eagle.
“We’ve had all except the one hundred percent assurance he’s going to be back,” Byington said concerning Smith’s status. “But all the paperwork has been turned in and we don’t anticipate any problems.”
As the Eagles have much potential in their returning roster, there’s still work to do in the off-season.
“We were a great offensive team, but we were a poor three-point shooting team,” Byington said. “Hopefully shoot it better next year will be a big thing. Our defense was one of our weaknesses up until about the last six or seven games of the year. Hopefully we’re more consistent on defense from the start. It took us a while to kind of understand the importance of it.”
Byington has set three goals for the Eagles this season, those being collecting as many non-conference wins as possible- with the hopes of knocking off a power-five school-, being regular season champions, and winning the tournament championship.
“The league is going to be wide open next year,” Byington said. “I think we’ll be picked somewhere in the top three of all the teams, but we’ve got to really kind of focus on getting better from now up until November.”
With last season the Eagles found success, but also found a disappointing ending after being knocked out of the conference tournament in the semifinals. While discouraging, the team is looking to use that as motivation to put in the work and come back as strong as ever for next season.
“I think everybody is ready to get back to work,” Byington said. “Our guys were anxious to get back into the gym, work hard in the weight room and get better, which is exciting for a team because we were good last year, but there’s a chance we could be even better.”
Next season’s schedule has yet to be announced, but we can anticipate that non-conference action will start somewhere between late October to early November.
Kaitlin Sells, The George-Anne Sports Editor, email@example.com